This homily was preached by Archbishop Mark Coleridge at the Mass for Anzac Day 2019 at The Cathedral of St Stephen
The voices of women in war are little heard, but let one of them be heard here this morning. It’s the voice of Vera Brittain who during the Great War lost her fiancé Roland in 1915 and her brother Edward in 1918.
In her memoir of the War, Testament of Youth, Vera writes: “There seemed to be nothing left in the world … I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past”. War and the experience of loss it brought for her left Vera Brittain adrift in a present without past or future; it had drained her of hope, as it did so many others. Of herself before disaster struck she writes: “How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we would have no more hope, and yet be unable to die”.
War is miserable; it is the enemy of hope, numbing the heart and soul, urging us to forget. As Vera Brittain wrote at War’s end: “When the sound of victorious guns burst over London at 11am on November 11, 1918, the men and women who looked incredulously into each other’s faces did not cry jubilantly: ‘We’ve won the war!’ They said only: ‘The War is over’”. No rejoicing at the victory, just a numb exhaustion, a sense of blank relief.
Wars do end; the numbness of heart and soul passes; hope rises from the ash-heaps. On this ANZAC Day we look the misery in the face; we sense the numbness of heart and soul; we look back, sobered and grateful; we look forward, even in hope. There is a past and there is a future. There is something left in the world, something of inestimable value: the peace won through self-sacrifice. That peace is at the heart of this Easter season and it’s at the heart of ANZAC Day, which is why we celebrate in this way in this place on this day – lest we forget and allow death to have the last word.