ANZAC Day – Learning from a Futile Battle

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ANZAC Day 2015 is a particularly poignant moment for Australia and New Zealand; 100 years since the ill-fated Gallipoli landings.

It’s not uncommon to hear people observe that “ANZACism” has become something of a national religion. The increased numbers of young Australians travelling abroad in the 1980s led to more and more turning up on the shores of the Dardanelles in Turkey for the dawn remembrance on April 25 and they, in turn, brought a renewed sense of national affection and remembrance back with them.

On Saturday morning many of us will rise before dawn to join in the various services on what is called “the most sacred of days”. Growing up in the UK I remember attending annual Remembrance Day services, but nothing was quite like this.

There has always been a Christian aspect to these celebrations, including hymns of various inclinations. “Oh Valiant Hearts” has always been a particular favourite of mine, despite it’s erroneous suggestion that Jesus looks down approvingly from His Cross to “bless our lesser Calvaries” as fallen servicemen “have drunk His cross of sacrifice”. It is one thing to suggest that sacrifice is noble, as Jesus Himself clearly states (John 15:13). It’s another to place those sacrifices on a par with the Cross. Nevertheless, the hymn clearly sets out confidence in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus; not a bad thing at all.

Other hymns make more realistic claims. “I Vow to Thee My Country” speaks of love of and allegiance to the nation, but the greater love and allegiance owed to “another country I’ve heard of long ago”. We will one day see her King.

In all of this remembrance I’ve got a different thought this year. I’m thinking about futility. One of the enduring legacies of the Gallipoli campaign was the futility, even the reckless folly of it. The plan was ambitious but evidently misguided. The Turkish gun emplacements were well defended and the cove itself incredibly difficult to take. Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing but the Great War is littered with enough examples of such foolishnesses to recognise the pattern. Despite the fact that far more British troops died at Gallipoli than ANZAC soldiers, one of the enduring legacies here in Australia is that our troops died due to the pride and poor strategy of British generals. There’s something incredibly tragic about pointless death, no matter how noble the sacrifice itself was. “Never again” must surely be our response.

Despite this most of our fellow Australians are themselves engaged in another battle of utter futility against an opponent even more unassailable; God Himself. The Scriptures are replete with examples of the folly of going up against him; Pharaoh’s defiant “who is this LORD?”, Goliath hurling out his insults in the valley of Elah, Jezebel and the priests of Baal, the eventual defeat of both the Assyrians and the Babylonians, not to mention the clear warnings in the New Testament from the lips of Jesus and his Apostles that all those who are under sin (i.e. all of humanity) face the eternal wrath of God upon them.

Every fist shaken at God in anger is an act of utter foolishness. God is not mocked nor is he unaware of the defiance against him and his Anointed One. Indeed, he laughs at it, and then acts decisively against those who oppose him, as Psalm 2 shows us. It is no accident that one of the final scenes of the Bible in the Revelation to John is of an enormous battle where the same Anointed One leads his army to victory against those who had the absurd notion he could be opposed.

For those around us this opposition comes in various guises. Some openly mock the God of the Bible and his people. Others are passive in their opposition, simply refusing to acknowledge him for who he is. Yet others craft him in an image of their own suiting, or one taught to them by others. But each is facing a battle in which they cannot possibly triumph. And it only takes a moment to mention. A few years ago in the gym someone I knew had a habit of correcting their spontaneous cry of “Jesus Christ” when they knew I was around. But after a while even this correction became another sort of mocking joke until one day I stopped and just mentioned “you know, on the off chance that Jesus really is who the Bible says he is, do you think that’s a risk you want to take?” I don’t presume to think his mind was radically changed but the swearing stopped and an urgent truth about Jesus was made known to him.

Will this be my main point on ANZAC Day? Certainly not. But when the subject of the futility of the Gallipoli landings is raised in conversation it will be something I’ll be pondering and might drop into the conversation. After all, ANZAC Day will be a day when many who have face the terror of conflict will be pointed to the Prince of Peace. Surely those who have yet to face an even greater terror might need some prompting too?

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