Uncomfortable Easter and Anzac Day


Easter calendarIt is very rare — once in every hundred years or so — for Easter to arrive before Anzac Day. It happened this year. And the conjunction of the two holidays is a happy one.

The story of Easter always fits well with any form of serious business. It has space for personal and domestic grief and death, and offers promise of life beyond grief. It expands to meet the large seasons of the human heart, the stages of life's journey and the vulnerability of the natural world in which we live. It also offers hope that we and our world might one day be transformed.

The Easter story is serious and far reaching enough to embrace reflection on large catastrophes like the war in Libya, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, and flooding in Australia.

So Easter fits well with Anzac Day. Or better, Anzac Day fits well with Easter. Anzac Day recalls matters of life and death, tragic events. So many young men died in a lost battle that was marginal to Australia's interests and welfare.

Much of what was said by generals and politicians, and what was written on gravestones for the consolation of relatives and the reassurance of the people, was taken from the Easter story. 'They died that others might live.' 'They made the supreme sacrifice.' 'Their death was not in vain.' Grief needed to be housed in the Easter story.

But Easter also tests the meanings we find in great loss and disaster. It challenges any easy consolations we may find or offer to others, especially our temptation to describe people's deaths as useful to others and to minimise the suffering and lasting harm caused by natural catastrophes and wars. In the Easter story the connections that link death, in its various forms of loss, ageing, catastrophe and grief, with life and meaning are much more mysterious and complex.

Easter does not sweeten the death of Jesus. It remains a brutal, degrading, dismembering, dirty affair. The Catholic practice of hanging crosses with the image of the tortured Jesus in classrooms and over hospital beds makes the point that this is the only starting point for thinking about what rising to life might mean. There are no shortcuts.

To ignore the casual brutality, pain, death and diminishment of war by depicting it as an adventure for young soldiers is judged as cheap nonsense when set alongside Easter. Anzac Day is first of all the remembrance of painful death and of the loss of so many people and of so much promise.

Nor does Easter canonise good intentions. Jesus' acceptance of death for others was important, but by itself it did not give meaning to his life and death. Choice and good intentions are never sufficient to give meaning to any one's life. Ultimately meaning and life are given, not chosen. The heart of the Easter story is that God raised Jesus from the dead. That was a gift.

So too in the Anzac story, it may be comforting to say that young soldiers died that others may live, but the comfort is too easy. They may have died with this hope, but no straight line ran between their intention and the outcome.

To give ourselves is a good and encouraging thing to do, but our gift has its meaning when it is reciprocated by an unexpected and greater gift. In Christian faith any confidence that the path we have chosen will lead to life comes from the conviction that God has given us life

Both Easter and Anzac Day make a claim on us. We should never give up on life, our own or the life of any human being, no matter how hopeless it seems to be. They encourage us to acknowledge the reality of our world, including the full extent of the grief and loss we suffer, of human malice, of the horrors of war, and of environmental degradation.

We deny or downplay these things because we are afraid of them. If we appreciate life as a gift to be gratefully received and lived fully, we do not need to be afraid. We can respond generously to the needs of our world. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Easter, Anzac Day, grief, war, death, crucifixion, resurrection



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Existing comments

Many thanks for this. In Bendigo because of Anzac Day (Australia's newest holy day)falling on Easter Monday, the great Bendigo Easter Parade concluding with the world's biggest chinese dragon has been moved to Easter Day atarting right outside our (anglican)cathedral with no regard to our holy day. Parking will be at a premium. Our dilemma has been complicated by our Sunday School barbeque (another form of holy communion) which will now compete with the worship inside. The mayor has been asked to come and read a lesson to support us and to "punish" him for the decision!

Theologically I have been thinking that it is important for Anzac Day that the dead stay dead (they shall not grow old). Not so with Jesus Christ, who challenges us into new life.

Peta Sherlock | 21 April 2011  

I enjoyed this item but cringed at seeing ANZAC so badly treated. The NZ stands for New Zeland and should never be in lower case letters. Sydney ins not in Nsw. Canberra is not in the Act. And Washington is not the capitol of the Usa.

A bit more respect is due.

Rob Roy Herzog | 21 April 2011  

One major defect of the commemoration of military anniversaries is the concentration on military matters with little, if any, reference to the tribulations of civilians resulting from a particular military conflict, or from war writ large, yet civilian losses generally outnumber military losses in war zones. It's time for some balance to enter the debate, and for historians to expand their brief to include civilian concerns.

Michael | 21 April 2011  

While it's important to remember the birth of our 'nationhood'. it is also important to place the remembrance in its proper perspective. The Battle at Anzac was a battle lost due to misjudged decisions by the British high command. Historians might see it as a the maturation of a nation, but it would have been much more appropriate to remember the birth of our nation as the day when we come to terms with all our beginnings, including those that might have tainted our history.

Anzac Day is one of those many memories that shape the destiny of our nation. It is not the only one.

Alex Njoo | 22 April 2011  

Militarily, the ANZAC invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli was a fiasco, a disastrous defeat at huge human cost for no strategic gain
Ethically, the invasion was a disgrace and fails the very minimum standards of morality which could be expected to apply
Easter marks the public execution of the gifted Christ by the political and religious establishment of his day
What links the two commemorations is the disinclination of humanity to accept the consequences of failure and death, preferring instead to redeem them in glory.

So Australia is still invading countries on the other side of the world at the behest of the current allied superpower instead of being a peaceful non-aligned nation, and the Church is still telling its members that everything will be alright, when you are dead you're not really dead, you're just resting

Robert Kinnane | 22 April 2011  

A thoughtful article. But I was most struck by Peta Sherlock's "it's important the dead stay dead". Whatever meaning Peta intended, I myself have for some time thought that the whole approach to ANZAC day has somehow lost its way.

As a public "holiday" and with the style of mass media coverage, and the accompanying celebrations and promotions of flag etc, the glorifications and justifications seem to me to have intruded too much on the sad memorials of the surviving service personnel and those affected by the death and injury of those they loved or knew.

I'm not sure how this could be workably reversed. My own preference would be that on both ANZAC Day and Good Friday, there should be a general commercial shut-down, including ads on TV or radio.

Stephen Kellett | 23 April 2011  

I am a veteran my self so ANZAC Day has a special significance- to remember not just dead mates but the living dead- those so traumatised so much by their experiences.I am sorry Andrew but the only connection I can see is Jesus died in support of a cause for salvation, my friends died in support of policies now seen for what they were a fraud! certainly not salvation. I support the comment from Stephen very strongly.

Gavin O'Brien | 27 April 2011  

The message of Easter gives many a clear picture of hope and love. The great losses caused by the deaths of young soldiers in any war so far has not given me hope of any kind that we are learning anything useful from this callous blood-shed. We should pray for not only those who died, and for those who suffered long after the actual conflict had passed, but for those who will continue to die and suffer in conflict long after we are gone. The uselessness of it all makes me very very sad.

Sue O'Connor | 28 April 2011  

Easter is always before Anzac day - good Friday can happen any time from the equinox (21 March) to 22 April - depending on the phases of the moon. Unfortunately Easter is a Pagan word and we use a Pagan technique for calculating it.

robin | 08 April 2012  

Easter is always before Anzac day - good Friday can happen any time from the equinox (21 March) to 22 April - depending on the phases of the moon. Unfortunately Easter is a Pagan word and we use a Pagan technique for calculating it.

robin Smith | 08 April 2012  

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