The transition from Easter to Anzac Day in Australia can be a strange one, particularly when the two celebrations come in the space of two weeks as they do this year.
At Easter, we move from the terrible desolation of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday. It's the foundation story for the Christian faith, and speaks of the arrival of new life and hope for the world.
Anzac Day forces Christians to confront a different reality — that this new hope has yet to be fully realised. Looking back to the major wars of the 20th century that Australia was involved in, knowing they were waged by Christians against each other, as well as those of other faiths and no faith, we can see that the world is still far from that which Christ envisaged.
Dawn services across Australia mark Anzac Day, helping us remember the terrible cost of war and renew our determination to be peacemakers. The commemorations will help us remember those who have lost their lives in war, whose efforts helped shape our country's history. But in our reflections on Anzac Day, it's worth also looking at what the day might say in the light of the Easter story.
A great deal of the rhetoric on Anzac Day is about sacrifice. But often those sacrifices are described in political or social terms — of soldiers giving their lives for the freedom and security of their families back home. At their heart, they're stories of sacrifice in order to bring peace to others — which have echoes in the Easter story.
But the Easter story has other ways to look at sacrifice, too, ones that cause us to look at Anzac Day differently.
Christians, including early Christian writers like Paul, often talk about the death and resurrection of Christ in terms of the death of the old self, and the birth of a new self that is much closer to God. One of the lessons of Easter then is that to fully live, we must be willing to sacrifice all that we are to God; and if we are unwilling to make that sacrifice, we can never be born into a new life.
We don't often think of war as this type of struggle — the sacrifice of ones self, in order to give birth to new life. But it's a helpful way to explore the issues that are faced in a time of war.
"The stories we share on Anzac Day look back at how our forebears confronted their brokenness, their own inner darkness, some succumbing to it, others transcending it."
'This great evil, where's it come from?' the narrator asks during Terence Malick's 1998 war epic The Thin Red Line. 'How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might've known? Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?'
Anzac Day can show us how war forces people to confront the darkness in themselves, and in those around them who have succumbed to it. The stories we share on Anzac Day look back at how our forebears confronted their brokenness, their own inner darkness, some succumbing to it, others transcending it.
Most of us will hopefully never know what it's like to confront the terrible realities of war, and the choices that are forced on people in those times. But Anzac Day takes us into those places, bringing us stories of those who were there, and giving us an insight into the realities that they faced.
When we reflect on Anzac Day, we might ask ourselves what we do to confront the darkness in ourselves and in our world. How do we respond where there seems so little evidence of goodness? How do we make sacrifices as Christ did at Easter, in the hope of bringing new life and new hope to ourselves and our world?
Michael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.
Pictured: Jim Caviezel as Witt in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line