Today in St Thomas’s we had our Anzac day service. Anzac day is not until next Sunday but in order to allow the ex-service personnel to attend parades next week, we had the service today). I find it moving that Australia commemorates this day seriously. Find out more here – I was asked to write the congregational letter. Part of which was introducing the congregation to Gaelic Psalm singing….my work is done here!
Dear brothers and sisters,
Next week is ANZAC day and this Sunday we remember those who fought, died and suffered to preserve our freedom. There are some people who struggle with the idea that churches should celebrate such events – does it not glorify war and militarism? As Christians we should take such comments seriously – after all does not Jesus tell us that ‘blessed are the peacemakers’? Psalm 11.v 5 makes the position clear – “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion”.
So does this mean we should all be pacifists – or that churches should not commemorate days such as ANZAC day? I don’t think so. When Jesus called soldiers, he didn’t tell them to leave their jobs. We live in a fallen world and because of that there may be times when force has to be used. If someone was to walk into your home and start shooting all your family, and you had the means to prevent them, even if it involved violence, it would surely be wrong of you not to do so. That applies on a larger scale as well. The Augustinian view of a just war is biblical.
However, we also have to acknowledge that there are unjust wars, and that all wars are ugly and horrific. Those who glamourise wars tend to be people whose knowledge is limited to films and books, not actual experience. I have spoken to several soldiers who were involved in fighting – none of them thought it was a pleasant or good experience. Death and destruction are so often the result.
The First World War was devastating to so many in the British Empire. Throughout the Empire (India, Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) young men signed up enthusiastically in a bout of patriotic fervour and the hope that it would all be over by Christmas. Four years later there was not a village or town in the UK or Australia who had not been impacted by death and destruction. The experience of the Second World War was generally much less gung ho.
For example, the island of Lewis, off the West Coast of Scotland, lost over 1,200 men (out of 6,000 who went to war, from a population of 25,000). When the Second World War started many men signed up. There is a very moving old piece of film showing hundreds of men leaving by boat from the harbour. As it pulled away from the pier, some of those left behind (mothers, wives, children and the elderly) started singing Psalm 46 in Gaelic. (Gaelic Psalm singing is a unique form of praise – incredibly emotional. If you want to hear an example have a listen to this)…
“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the sea”. It is incredibly moving – especially when you consider that more than 450 of them would not return. (At a personal level my wife Annabel is from Lewis and her father served in the war as a merchant seaman).
It is right to remember those who died and were wounded. Over 1 million Australians fought in WW2 and over 39,000 died. In WW1 it was 416,000 who enlisted and over 62,000 who died. Another 1,000 have died in action since then. How could we forget?
Of course, it is good that we commemorate and give thanks for those who served and suffered to preserve our freedoms. We also need to realise that these freedoms are under greater threat today; more than at any time since the Second World War. We need to be thankful, vigilant and pray for peace.
“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps 46:8-10).
Yours in Christ
PS. Don’t forget the men’s breakfast this coming Saturday (the 24th). Come along and bring a friend! But let us know…!) To get in contact click here.