Homily for Anzac Day 2020
Readings: John 12: 23-28
25 April 2020
As the Prime Minister said at this morning’s Dawn Service, this Anzac Day our commemorations are ‘small, quiet and homely’. On the original Anzac Day, Australians and New Zealanders landed in the stillness of the early dawn on the Turkish shoreline wanting to assist with the Allies’ advance on Constantinople, now Istanbul. On that day, the Turks commenced a successful, eight month campaign to defend their homeland against the assault.
Nineteen years after the ANZAC landings, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Founder and first President of the modern Republic of Turkey, who had been Commander in Chief of the Turkish forces in Gallipoli, graciously responded to an Australian journalist’s request and wrote, ‘The landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and the fighting which took place on the peninsula will never be forgotten. They showed to the world the heroism of all those who shed their blood there. How heartrending for their nations were the losses that this struggle caused.’
We remember the 130,000 who were killed on that blood-soaked peninsula during the Gallipoli campaign, and the other quarter of a million who were wounded. Let’s not only pray for the 44,000 Allies who died, but also for the 86,000 Turks who perished in their trenches opposite them. Being ANZAC Day, we particularly call to mind the 8709 Australians and 2779 Kiwis who died.
As Christians who have just celebrated Easter, we recall Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: ‘Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.’
We recall the innocence of the soldiers – many aged the same as our students here at Newman College today – and the human values that they embodied of endurance, courage and mateship. We recall too the reality, routine and relentlessness of their fighting, their sufferings, their sacrifices and their deaths. We also recall the idealism, the hope, and perhaps even the naivety of empire which motivated and sustained them and those who sent them to battle.
105 years on, we are able to reach out across those trenches that divided them at Gallipoli. Facing the common foe of the coronavirus, we can embrace a more sustaining myth, a more noble ideal: the common bond of all people, the dignity of our shared humanity, and our responsibility for a fragile ecosystem. We have appropriated the words attributed to Ataturk at the 1934 dawn service: ‘There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours….After having lost their lives on this land they are now our sons as well.’
Today, lest we forget.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lord Our God, on this day, 105 years ago, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, at Gallipoli, made immortal the name of Anzac and established an imperishable tradition of selfless service, of devotion to duty, and of fighting for all that is best in human relationships.
O Lord, we who are dispersed in our small, quiet and homely gatherings while isolated in this time of the virus remember with gratitude the men and women who have given, and are still giving all that is theirs to give, in order that the world may be a nobler place in which to live.
And with them, Lord, we remember those left behind to bear the sorrow of their loss.
We dedicate ourselves to taking up the burdens of the fallen and, with the same high courage and steadfastness with which they went into battle, to setting our hands to the tasks they left unfinished. Lord, we dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died. With your help, O God, might we give our utmost to make the world what they would have wished it to be, a better and happier place for all of its people, through whatever means are open to us.
We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).