Saturday, April 23, 2011

Would Jesus celebrate Anzac day?

ANZAC day is one of the most significant public holidays in Australia. On thursday night I attended a free ANZAC concert in Brisbane because my daughter was singing in one of the choirs. The concert a joint initiative of the Queensland Symphony and the RSL (Returned and Services League of Australia) [equivalent to a Veterans association in the USA).
The music was great but there were several disturbing aspects of nationalism, militarism, and bad theology which reared their ugly head.

The Lord's Prayer was sung while the big screen above the orchestra showed movies of Australian troops going into battle and playing with Middle Eastern children.

The Governor of Queensland introduced the hymn Abide with me emphasizing its appeal to soldiers with a verse:

4. I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness. Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
I did not realise that the hymn is traditionally sung at Anzac day services and F.A. Cup finals! However, I feel it is being totally ripped from its history, meaning, and context. It is not about a generic offer of peace and comfort in the face of the battle of war, but rather about how a Christian need not fear death because they are trusting in the resurrection of Jesus.

A slide show honoured soldiers who had died in battle. It seemed to me it was suggested the soldiers were now in heaven because they had died for their country. Surely, this is salvation by works.

The 1812 overture provided a resounding end to the concert. It begins and ends with a Russian hymn "God preserve thy people".

     Mighty Lord, preserve us from jeopardy. 
     Take Thee now our faith and love, thine inheritance. 
     Grant thee victory o'er our treacherous and cruel enemies
     And to our land bring peace.
     O mighty Lord hear our lowly prayer,
     And by Thy shining holy light.
     Grant us, O Lord, peace again.
     O mighty Lord hear our prayer
     and save our people
     Forever, forever!
It is strange that a hymn that was used to promote the nationalism of the Russian Orthodox church 150 years ago is now being used on the other side of the world by secular organisations to promote the nationalism of a different country.

So what might be a Christian view on such events? 
  • They should not be celebrations of war and nationalism. 
  • They should honour those who have died and be a reminder of the tragedy of war. 
  • They should reflect on whether our soldiers today are serving with integrity
  • Are our soldiers dying for justice and in the hope of creating peace? 
  • They should cause us to ask whether our troops are just aiming to preserve our economic interests and/or impose our political values on others?
War is hell. Lest we forget.

1 comment:

  1. When I asked Matt Cardier about this post he said the key is to have Remembrance without Glorification of war. I thought that was a nice succinct summary.