Lest we forget the cross

Every year as Australians commemorate Anzac Day, we remember the cost of love. But if we only remember to reflect on that day once a year, we have actually forgotten the magnitude of that gift.  

The love of Anzac day

The essence of love is giving. And we measure the degree of love by the costliness of the giving to the giver in comparison to the worthiness of the receiver. The more it costs the giver and the less worthy the receiver, the greater the love.

On the 25th of April 1915 Australia was at war. The Allies of the “Anzacs” were fighting against the Central Powers in Europe in World War I. On the 25/4/1915, the ANZACs (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, on Turkey's coast.

They were expecting a flat beach. And the plan was that from there they would take the whole Peninsula. But actually, they landed at an incorrect position, on a piece of wild and impossibly savage terrain, now known as Anzac Cove. And so instead they faced the steep cliffs of Anzac Cove. And what is worse, they faced constant barrages of enemy fire.

What was Gallipoli like? A description taken from the book Gallipoli, written by John Masefield, first published in September 1916, describes it:

“Those who wish to imagine the scene must think of 20 miles of any rough and steep sea coast known to them, picturing it as roadless, waterless, much broken with gullies, covered with scrub, sandy, loose, and difficult to walk on…

Then let them imagine the hills entrenched, the landing mined, the beaches tangled with barbed wire…and swept by machine guns, and themselves three thousand miles from home, going out before dawn with rifles, packs, and water-bottles, to pass the mines under shell fire, cut through the wire under machine-gun fire, clamber up the hills under the fire of all arms by the glare of shell-bursts, in the withering and crashing tumult of modern war, and then to dig themselves in, on a waterless and burning hill while a more numerous enemy charge them with the bayonet…

Only then will they begin, even dimly, to understand…”

What made the 25th of April 1915 a day Australians will never forget is that after landing in this Cove, over those next two days, more than 21,200 British, 10,000 French, 8700 Australians and 2700 New Zealanders were killed. And the Allied wounded totalled more than 97,000. The Gallipoli campaign was an enormous failure, a failure bought at the cost of an enormous number of lives.

But the Gallipoli story is also an incredible story of courage and endurance. The landing at Gallipoli is a story not only of death, and despair, of poor leadership and unsuccessful strategies. The heart of the Anzac story is a legend, not of military victory, but of courage; courage that came from the bonds of friendship.

At Gallipoli, men from all backgrounds from the newly formed nation created the essence of what it means to be Australian –

Giving a hand to a friend.
Sticking up for a mate.
Courage under fire.

And so ‘lest we forget’, on the 25th of April every year Australians commemorate Anzac Day, and remember the cost of love, paid by our forebears for us.

How costly was the gift given on the first Anzac day in 1915? Very costly indeed: It was the cost of thousands of innocent lives. And they were the dearest of lives: Mothers giving sons; Wives giving husbands; Children giving fathers.

And who was it for? Future generations; for those who were still far off; for you and I who now live in peace in Australia. How worthy are we of such love?

Extraordinary human love

The Anzac story is one of extraordinary love. How do you know how much someone loves you? How much they would give of themselves for you; how much they would give up for you in demonstration of their love. The ultimate test might be would they die for you?

Of course we don’t really like to think about whether the people who love us would really have to die for us, let alone go ahead and do it. And people rarely ever actually do die for those they love because they rarely have to. But ‘would they’ do it – if the situation arose – and true love demanded it; such as the choice between you losing your life or them giving theirs. Would they do it? It depends on how much they really love you.

Would you die for someone if they didn’t really mean much to you? We find it hard usually to even be generous to others, unless we consider them especially worthy of our affection, or respect – but let alone die for them. And I don’t think it would matter much if there were other very compelling reasons why we might die for them, other than great love.

Around the world every day countless journalists standby recording the deaths of innocent civilian victims of war crimes without making the step at attempted ‘saviour’. Even when we know that someone is innocent it is nonetheless very difficult to imagine dying for any other than those we love greatly.

However, ‘perhaps for a good man someone might possibly dare to die’. The Anzac story of Simpson and his Donkey is probably Australia’s most famous stories, and Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick one of our best-loved military heroes. He was one of those Anzacs who landed at Anzac Cove. He was chosen as a stretcher-bearer, but as the story goes, he was carrying casualties back to the beach over his shoulder when that he saw a donkey. And from that day on he began to act independently, lifting wounded men onto the donkey and guiding them to the beach. In 24 days, under constant and ferocious attack from artillery and field guns and sniper fire, he rescued over 300 men, until he was hit by a machine gun bullet in the back.

It was an incredibly heroic feat. And it was a self-imposed task. Why did he do it? Was it because people were innocently losing their lives? There were plenty on the other side who were innocently dying too. Turkish casualties were estimated at 250,000. But it was because these were his own countrymen who were losing their lives, his own mates. Good men. He willingly gave his life for his fellow Aussies.

Though uncommon, it’s not unheard of that people do dare even to die for others that they consider good people. Most of us would see that there is something really honourable in giving our life for someone who is good and worthy of the sacrifice of our lives.

As time goes by, it’s easy to forget the incredible love shown to us by those who have gone before us, without the help of the Memorial Day. Removed by close to one hundred years from those one hundred thousand of our fathers who died for us, we are constantly forgetting the great cost that was paid to give us this life.

The unique love of God

As Christians we also need to continually remind ourselves of who has gone before us, what it cost them, and how great is that love and the gift we’ve been given.

Human love – extraordinary human love – is perhaps the most inspiring of all human experiences. How does the love of God measure up? We often we hear today God’s love ridiculed: ‘if God exists, then he is horrible’ is the taunt of atheists who claim that the proliferation of war, suffering and evil in the world provides testimony against the existence of a good God.

In Romans 5:6-10 the Apostle Paul describes the enormous magnitude of the love that has actually been shown to us by God. And what Paul says about the love of God (and it should not come as a surprise) is that the love of God is completely unique: in comparison even extraordinary human love does not come close, does not even compare.

If you want to understand the Christian message, if you want to try come to terms with what it is that the New Testament claims is going on at the cross of Jesus, if you want to get to the heart of God and see whether or not at the centre of this universe there is a loving God, this is a key passage to wrap your head around:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

(Romans 5:6-10)

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