St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore
Anzac Day falling this year on the Monday of the Easter weekend is a coincidence worth noting.
We recall again at this time the memory and sacrifice of tens of thousands of young Australians who went away, never to return again to their earthly homeland, giving their lives for an ideal that gripped their imagination and drew from them a bravery that made families and country for ever proud and grateful. Many of them gave their lives, not without heroism, for their country and their mates.
Within the interest in genealogical research stimulated by television programmes and made possible by huge resources now accessible via the internet, many of today’s generation have taken up an interest in their fighting forbears. Great curiosity and mounting fascination drives this research. New documents and primary sources continue to surface. I recently was shown a whole treasure-trove of letters that were stored in an old box long put away and forgotten by an elderly relative. With its discovery after her death the value of the folded and yellowed contents for the family history was realized with amazement. The letters proved to be a close and factual exchange between a son fighting in the Dardanelles, and later France, and his mother and family back home. An unrelated outsider, I felt privileged to be shown them, to handle and read some of them, and felt moved by their personal expression of such universal human sentiments from nearly a century ago
From such sources and others, one of the conspicuous features of what I have come to know of the generations of Australian soldiers, of the World Wars at least, which my own father as a soldier in Papua New Guinea, was their attachment to Christian faith, and for many also to its practice – certainly prayer, reading the scriptures, and the sacraments when they could get to them.
These records are a revealing window into an earlier Australia, when Christian faith and convictions went deep and were shared at all levels of society. It was an Australia when not only in war, but in peace, death was a constant reality. Our cemeteries testify to high infant mortality and disease, and a shorter life expectancy, but also to the strong Christian beliefs of our forbears, Catholic and Protestant. The same belief is evident not only in letters home, but is clear in texts selected by grieving families as one thoughtfully walks among the headstones of our military cemeteries.
Although we do speak of, pray, and hope for ‘a happy death’ in a precise spiritual sense, death as it is experienced by those who die and those who survive is rarely less than an ugliness and a darkness, mourning and grief. In one epoch and culture after another across the millennia, the greatest human striving has been devoted to trying to make sense of it, and to find out what lies beyond. Though death is written into our human nature, we recoil from the thought that it is our final state.
It’s peculiar to the English language that we call this Friday ‘Good.’ In German it’s called after cares and woes, and named Mourning Friday, perhaps because that’s what the Lord’s disciples did on that day – they mourned.
Probably the origin of ‘Good Friday’ was in the English ‘God’s Friday’ as a way of saying it was the holy Friday between Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Whatever it is, it has settled with us as Good Friday because, in retrospect, all the seeming tragedy of this day has brought about all the good there could ever be.
We now know what lies beyond death, because Jesus Christ our Lord, the Incarnate Son of God, is the only one ever, since Adam, who knew the way out of the grave, and in so doing has given us the answer.
We know that, because of the death we commemorate today, the end of death is life. And this life is contagious and happily meant to be so, spread through contact with the living Body of Christ, His Holy Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Anointing and the many outpourings of life and grace that lead us to glory.
That’s why we see it is a mystery, a paradox, that around us who rejoice in such an abundance of death defeating life, there should be seemingly lengthening shadows of what Pope John Paul II tellingly described as ‘a culture of death.’ In the face of this dark mystery, we should be galvanised to action, a courage demanding that we march out of step, when even elected leaders whom we can identify from their voting intentions, appear to incline to this darker death wish, an inclination more to death than to life.
Christians cannot stand silent as one in four unborn children in this country, ninety thousand of them each year on a conservative estimate, are sentenced to death before a chance to be born. This may be Good Friday, when we celebrate a death that we call good, but it also has nothing to do with another intention to kill, that some people, increasingly vocal in political lobbying, want us to think is good – in its original Greek ‘euthanatos,’ better known in English as euthanasia. In its current push that means legally enabling people who are terminally ill to kill themselves or to permit others to do it for them, which hitherto the law has defined as murder. This year we may well see the push for thisgain momentum, as for other affronts to human life and dignity.
Dear friends, we come to the Cross of the Lord of life on this day, and we will celebrate His Resurrection, conscious this year of the Anzac tradition that surrounds the fight for life and freedom, honour and true human rights.
At the foot of the Cross, the sign of the Lord’s sacrifice, with Mary, Help of Christians at our side, let us pray for ourselves, for our own share in eternal life, and for the good of our homeland, Australia.