12 Ways Christians Can Respond to Anzac Day (and Other Commemorative Events) – Shortened Version of Blog Post
Anzac Day always makes me think about my grandparents, and their personal courage and losses during the First and Second World Wars. Anzac Day holds a special place in the imaginations of Australians and New Zealanders. But, war is dreadful, and Jesus calls us to be local and global peacemakers. So, how should Christians respond to Anzac Day and other commemorative events? Here are 12 responses.
My grandparents both served in the Second World War. When I was a child, I used to admire the pictures on their mantelpiece of their younger selves dressed in full military uniform. They looked so handsome, courageous, and resolute.
My grandparents grew up in poor rural families. My father once told me that my grandfather didn’t own a pair of shoes before joining the Australian Army to fight in the Second World War. Wounded during the fighting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, my grandfather returned to Australia to work labouring jobs his whole life. His best friend fought alongside him in those jungles, and even saved his life when he was shot. They remained inseparable friends for life.
My grandfather rarely spoke about the horrors he experienced in the war. But at his funeral an Australian Army officer described how most of my grandfather’s battalion had been killed in the unspeakable violence that unfolded in those jungles. My grandparents were passionate about their country, Australia, and paid a terrible price during the war to defend the country and the people they loved.
Anzac Day holds a special place in the imaginations of Australians and New Zealanders. It’s a day to remember all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.” It’s about focusing on “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
Some Christians struggle with Anzac Day and other commemorative events. They find it difficult to reconcile such commemorations with the peacemaking Jesus calls us to embrace as his disciples.
So, how should Christians respond to Anzac Day, and to other days that commemorate those who have served and sacrificed in war and conflict?12 ways Christians can respond to Anzac Day & other commemorative events. Click To Tweet
Here are 12 ways Christians can respond to Anzac Day and other commemorative events.
(Please note that you are reading a shortened version of this blog. A fuller, extended version, covering the same 12 points, is located here: Extended Version).
1. Say “thank you”
On Anzac Day, most veterans would be delighted if people just said, “Thank you for your service, and thanks to your family for their sacrifices.” Few would wish to go into a theological debate and discussion about the Christian faith, wars, politics, and nationalism. There is a time for that, and for veterans it is not on Anzac Day.
Say “thank you.” Honour their service, sacrifice, and contributions.
2. Develop a genuine relationship with a veteran
A friend of mine who is a veteran puts it this way: “One practical thing that all Christians can do is develop a genuine relationship with a veteran, and to hear his/her stories without judgment to get a better insight into their service. Maybe that will allow Christians to speak into veteran’s lives when they are ready for the Good News of Jesus and his sacrifice for them. Relational authority must be established first by seeing and understanding a veteran’s world through their eyes.”
Also, Christian veterans can help us understand the experiences of those in the armed forces, further appreciating a veteran’s world through their eyes.
3. Honour the courage and sacrifice of many who fought and suffered in war, without romanticising or glorifying conflict
Anzac Day isn’t about honouring war. War isn’t something we need or want to honour. War is horrific. But Anzac Day does give us a chance to honour the valour and remember the losses of so many who fought and suffered in war. And we can do that without romanticising or lionising conflict.
We remember those (on both sides of the conflicts, and from many different ethnicities), who suffered terribly during the first and second world wars, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, the Persian Gulf, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places.
We recognise that many horrible and unspeakable things were done in war. Yet, we honour the bravery, dreams, and sacrifices of those who fought and suffered for freedoms, ideals, hopes, and people they loved dearly.
Whether I’m a pacifist or a person that believes that I can justify conflict in certain circumstances, I can still honour those who have gone before and given and sacrificed so much.
4. Remember those who still bear the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scars and disabilities
My grandfather rarely spoke about the horrors he experienced in war, or about the people he loved and served with that he watched suffer and die. He was one of many soldiers who left conflict with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scars.
When soldiers come home, they often bring the war home with them. Aside from physical injuries, many suffer psychological and emotional wounds. Then there’s the spiritual toll war takes on soldiers. How do you maintain faith within the horrors of war, or while you struggle with PTSD, depression, or a disability? Soldiers (and their families) need a lot of love and support when they serve and when they return home.
Anzac Day gives us a chance to remember those who still bear these sufferings, and to pray for them, and support them, and love them.
5. Remember the people who waited (sometimes in vain) for the return of a loved one
I’ve just finished reading a collection of poems by sons, daughters, spouses, sweethearts, and parents waiting (sometimes in vain) for a loved one to return from war. It’s heartbreaking. There’s the fear and anxiety while the loved one is away. The shock, depression, and anger if that person is killed. Or the struggles the family goes through if that person returns a different person (because of their experiences in war, or because of PTSD). During Anzac Day, we remember and pray for the families who waited, and who wait today.
6. Honour the sacrifices and contributions of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, and Māori Peoples
Many Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, and Māori sacrificed much for the sake of their countries, in the first and second world wars, and in other wars. As a nation, it’s vital that we recognise their experiences, courage, and losses.
7. Esteem the sacrifices people have made to prevent war and conflict, and to foster peace
We can also honour the courage, sacrifices, and passions of those who spent (and are currently spending) their lives preventing wars and conflicts. These often work tirelessly to foster peace.
These include politicians, pastors, military personnel, religious leaders, aid and development workers, United Nations Peacekeepers, peace activists, and groups that work for peace and reconciliation. These often lead peace talks and engage groups in peace processes. Some work nationally and globally, but the majority work locally. Many serve at the grassroots, in war and conflict zones (many at the risk of losing their lives). We honour their bravery and sacrifice, as they work to prevent conflict and to bring peace and reconciliation.
8. Reflect on the relationship between Christian and national identity
If you live in Australia or New Zealander, it’s natural to feel some pride in your country. Personally, while I certainly lament Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and our Indigenous peoples, I still feel some pride in many aspects of Australian society.
But, we Christians are sometimes tempted to over-identify with our national identity, and especially during times of national celebration and commemoration. We need to be wary of this. Too often, we confuse our national identity and our Christian identity.
We must bear witness to our new identity in Jesus Christ. We are not primarily Australian or New Zealander, Tutsi or Hutu, German or French, British or Sudanese, Palestinian or Israeli, Chinese or Brazilian, Syrian or American. We are not primarily Liberal or Labor, conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat, urban or rural, rich or poor, white or a person of colour. We are primarily one people, united as one body in Jesus Christ.
God is forming for himself a people in the world. That people—Jew and Gentile, women and men, rich and poor, black and white—show the world an alternative to ethnocentrism, animosity, nationalism, sexism, racism, violence, war, and conflict.
In an age of war and conflict, Jesus rings us together as a new humanity and a new creation, witnessing to Christ’s final rule and reign. We express this in grace, love, forgiveness, lament, fellowship, hospitality, welcome, and a commitment to human flourishing.
9. Choose the values and ethics of Jesus, and not those promoted by society
There is a lot of talk these days about “Australian values.” This discussion about Australian values builds a lot of momentum around key dates in our national calendar: Australia Day, Anzac Day, and so on.
The good news for Christians is that we have a more solid reference point for our values. We choose the values of Jesus and his kingdom and gospel, and not those determined (occasionally and arbitrarily) by any nation or society.
The life and message of Jesus especially shape our values and ethics. What values and ethics did Jesus embrace, demonstrate, and speak about? Love your enemies. Love your God. Love your neighbour. Go and be reconciled. Honour human life. Renounce violence and hatred. Love unconditionally. Forgive extravagantly. Show compassion for the last, the least, the outcast, the poor, the despised, and the most vulnerable. Be passionate about truth and justice. Be meek. Pursue peacemaking. Seek the righteousness that only God offers. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Be humble, sincere, and honest. Repent, and turn away from wrongdoing. Follow Jesus and “take up your cross.” Have faith in God.
10. Learn afresh, every day, how “blessed are the peacemakers”
Anzac Day reminds us to commit to pursuing peace in a divided, violent, and conflicted world.
Christians root our witness in the peaceable ethic of Jesus. “Nonviolence is a sign of hope that there is an alternative to war. And that alternative is called church.”
We choose to learn afresh, every day, how “blessed are the peacemakers.” Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. In fact, healthy conflict is necessary for peace, and to avoid war. Peacemaking is a virtue, cultivated in community. Peacemaking is crucial to moral excellence and Christian witness. Christians can’t practice peacemaking in isolation. We need communities of forgiveness, peace, hospitality, and reconciliation. Christians shouldn’t despair of peace in the world. Instead, we foster a peaceable practice and imagination. We pursue the peaceable kingdom. We embrace hope in the Prince of Peace. “Peacemaking among Christians, therefore, is not simply one activity among others but rather is the very form of the church insofar as the church is the form of the one who ‘is our peace.’” Peacemaking isn’t passive. It’s the active, courageous, and public exercise of forgiveness and love and reconciliation.
11. See the search for meaning and identity present in commemorations, and show how Jesus and his gospel meet this longing
For many people, Anzac Day (and other such events) are part of a broader search for meaning and identity. Some suggest this is the reason so many Millennials are involved in Anzac Day, and why it now rivals religious holidays. People are asking a lot of significant questions. Who am I? Who am I in this culture? How do I relate to my society and its past? What is my place in life? How do I understand myself and my purpose in life, especially considering historical events? What have people given up for me, and how do I respond? What does it mean to relate to a story and tradition that’s greater than myself? What unites me to others in my society, when we may not share the same faith, outlook, or worldview?
All these are natural questions. It makes sense that people ask such questions on occasions like Anzac Day.
But, let’s remember that Anzac Day comes directly after Easter on the Australian and New Zealand calendars. For Christians, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most profound answer to all these questions. Jesus Christ defines meaning and identity for Christians. And we believe that Jesus and his gospel meet the longing of the human heart for meaning and identity.
12. Commit the commemorations, the participants, the armed forces, the peacemakers, and the nation to prayer
Finally, we commit all these things to prayer. We pray for soldiers, peacemakers, politicians, and commemorations. We pray for the thousands of participants in the services, and for the nation. We pray for God’s power, presence, provision, protection, and grace. We pray for healing, forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation. We pray for those who still bear the physical and mental scars and disabilities of their service. We pray for the widows, orphans, and parents who waited in vain for the return of loved ones. We pray for veterans, as many suffer from depression, PTSD, loneliness, and more. We pray for the courage to follow the Prince of Peace, and be nonviolent peacemakers in every area of our lives. We pray for a vision of the age to come, where there will be no more sickness, war, conflict, and death. We pray for compassion and love. We pray for the Asia-Pacific, and for the witness of the churches throughout our region, as they seek to model and promote peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. And we pray all this, in Jesus’ name.
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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 See https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac-day/ and https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/anzac-day-resources
 Hauerwas, “Peacemaking: The Virtue of the Church,” in Berkman and Cartwright, The Hauerwas Reader (London: Duke University, 2001), 324.
 Ibid., 318–26. See: McKnight, One Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), Chapter 6.