Australia can be the land of the great forgetting. Many came to these distant shores in order to forget – to wipe from their mind the memory of war, persecution, poverty. They never spoke much of what they left behind; their stories usually went with them to the grave. And so was born the great Aussie amnesia.
Yet on this ANZAC Day we remember and we hear the words, Lest we forget. Their urgency suggests the danger of forgetting. But what is it that we remember? We think of the innocence of many who enlisted and ended up on the shores of the Dardenelles; we think of the errors of judgement that led to the military defeat and the death of thousands as cannon-fodder; we think of the devastation of so many families in an Australia that didn’t see this coming; we think of the call to defend Empire that made this nation come of age. All these things we recall, but they’re not in the end what we remember – at least not as we gather in this cathedral.
Here we remember that something genuinely noble and enduring was born from the horror of war. Death produced life. That truth is profoundly biblical and profoundly Christian – and we recognise that here beneath the emblem of Christ crucified and risen. But today an entire nation remembers, not just those who read the Bible and call themselves Christian – and they do so because they know, all of them in some way, that this truth isn’t just biblical and Christian: it’s profoundly human. The horror of Gallipoli is unmistakeable, but the humanity of it is undeniable. The horror we may recall, but the humanity we remember.
Australians don’t always “do” God readily or obviously – certainly they don’t on this ANZAC Day. Perhaps this is because in the old world religion had been such a source of strife and division, with brutal wars fought in the name of God. Perhaps too because people have often thought that to find God you have to deny your humanity. Yet the real God is not like that. To find the real God you have to enter more and more deeply into your humanity. The more intensely human an event or situation is, the more God is there somewhere, even if not where and as we expect. That’s why in the midst of all that was most human at Gallipoli, God was on the beaches, in the trenches, storming the cliffs, burying the dead and even lying in the graves. That’s what we recognise when we have the Mass before the march.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane