The Right Rev’d Denise Ferguson

Gospel Reading: John 15:9-17

Holy God, open our minds to know your wisdom, our hearts to embrace your love, our mouths to speak your Word, and our lives to reflect your way. Amen.

In June 2015 I stood on the deck of a ship, anchored in ANZAC Cove off the coast of Turkey. I looked out across the rugged, isolated terrain and stood in silent respect as we who were gathered on board remembered where a previous generation, one hundred years before, had stepped into the unknown.

On 25 April 1915 16,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed at what is now called ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. For the vast majority of those who landed, it was their first combat experience. By that evening 2000 of those soldiers had been killed or wounded.

When the Gallipoli campaign ended on 9 January 1916, 8700 Australians and 2779 New Zealanders had died, and many more were wounded. Some of whom would never recover.

The intention of The Gallipoli Campaign, masterminded by the Admiral of the Fleet, Winston Churchill, was to force Turkey out of the First World War. The campaign lasted from 19 February 1915 until 9 January 1916 and is considered to this day to be a failure. Winston Churchill took much of the blame.

The futility of this campaign was, as one historian wrote

‘In the wider story of the First World War, the Gallipoli campaign made no large mark. The number of dead, although horrific, pales in comparison with the death toll in France and Belgium during the war.’

This history brings great sadness and has not been forgotten, as Australians and New Zealanders around the world continue to honour and remember this tragic war time action and the men who paid the ultimate price.

It is often claimed that for Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey this conflict played an important part in fostering a sense of national identity that continues to this day.

Qualities such as courage, endurance, initiative, discipline, and mateship witnessed in that campaign took on a new depth and meaning, captured in what we now recognise as the ANZAC Spirit.

ANZAC Day could be said to be the greatest annual act of community spirit across Australasia and beyond. Even in a locked down world people gathered at their gates to ‘light up the dawn’, and I feel for our brothers and sisters who are unable to gather as they had planned this morning.

The first ANZAC Day commemorations were held on 25 April 1916, and even through times of subsequent conflict war and pandemic Australians and New Zealanders have continued to pause and to remember. Not to glorify war, or the tragedy of Gallipoli, rather to be inspired and renewed by the ANZAC Spirit; to be better human beings in a world still fractured by war and conflict.

The example of our veterans has much to teach us about service.

I was listening to an interview the other day of a conversation between Simon Sinek, leadership specialist and inspirational speaker, and Brigadier General Michael Drowley, an American Air Force Commander. They were talking about the special bond that exists between service personnel. I found the insights deeply moving.

The Brigadier described places of service as environments of connectedness not competitiveness. He said, ‘When we serve, we think differently; it’s not about us, it’s about those whom we serve.’ He spoke of strong relationships and being community, and of bonds of love and trust that inspire people to do remarkable things for each other. What we might define as the ANZAC spirit of mateship.

When compared to the wider world, he said, society has it back to front.

  • In the military they give medals to people who sacrifice themselves so others may gain:
  • In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so we may gain.

In this age of what he described as rugged individualism, society has moved away from the principles of service to the tribe, the community and to the nation. It has moved away from service to the common good. Service is about something higher than us. It is about recognising and responding to the humanity in one another.

I recently read this description of a veteran.

A Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to their country and its people for an amount “up to and including my life”.

… and Jesus said ‘love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ 

When we serve, we think differently; it’s not about us, it’s about those whom we serve. We grow a bond of love that inspires people to do remarkable things for each other.

Today we commemorate ANZAC Day, and we have chosen to do so in the context of being a community of faith, and that is why I found the Brigadiers words so profound. The language he used to describe his experience of military service is the language of serving the Common Good. It is the language of our Christian faith.

As we follow Jesus, the one who laid down his life for his friends, we are called to grow environments of connectedness not competitiveness, to build strong relationships so we may grow as community. We are to strengthen our bonds of love and trust so that our witness will inspire people to do remarkable things for each other and our wider communities in the name of Jesus, the one who sacrificed all.

We are called to break down the rugged individualism of society and learn once again how to serve the common good. Because when we serve, we think differently; it’s not about us, it’s about those whom we serve.

Today we remember our service personnel. We particularly remember those who fought under the flags of Australia and New Zealand who returned to build our countries, and those who will never return.

Thank you for your service and your sacrifice for our freedom.

We honour the legacy of life you have left for all who call themselves Australians and New Zealanders.

I invite you all to stand with me if you are able, as I recite the Ode to the Fallen

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.

Lest we forget.