ANZAC Day looms. This Saturday is the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings – not just of New Zealand and Australian troops, although the Gallipoli campaign looms particularly large in the national consciousness of our two countries. It is our Remembrance Day or Memorial Day – an odd choice perhaps, to focus on a campaign that ended badly, but that is the way things unfolded in this part of the world.
On my way into town this morning I dropped into the Hall of Memories at the National War Memorial in Wellington. It is a place of quiet dignity. It remembers, matter of factly, those who fought and those who died, and some of the campaigns in which they fought.
The War Memorial itself – a spare but striking building – was opened in 1932, but the Hall of Memories at its base (postponed because of Depression and the second war) was only opened in 1964. It was striking to find the verses from the Book of Common Prayer’s translation of Psalm 139 on the front wall of the Hall of Memories:
If I climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning; and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me
That hall was opened 50 years ago. I picked up a copy of the brochure for the opening last weekend of the (expensive and underwhelming) adjacent new National War Memorial Park. In the programme for that ceremony, by contrast, there is no mention or reference – outside the National Anthem – to the Christian religion that shaped our history and culture. I’m not complaining – those are the realities of the widespread loss of faith, and of public practice.
As I continued into town, I saw an advertisement for something called Shadow Battalions, which seems to be a programme promoted by the Returned Servicemen’s Association, sponsored by a local bank, enabling people to identify with a particular soldier from New Zealand’s past wars.
And it got me thinking about our Christian faith and practice. As part of our daily family devotions we read the stories of those featured in the Anglican church’s For All the Saints. I mentioned the other day the value in reading accounts of those martyred for their faith. And the author of Hebrews points us, in chapter 11, to those who, for all their faults and failings, walked before us in the faith. He follows that, at the start of chapter 12, with the injunction:
“therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”.
For many of us, parents, grandparents, or someone else whose walk of faith inspired us, also act as an example or inspiration. The walk of the Christian faith often isn’t easy, or without cost. And where the RSA promotes its “shadow battalions” as a one-off, much of the Christian church observes All Saints and All Souls Days, to mark those who have gone before us. We don’t journey alone. God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we are part of that great company who together make up Christ’s church, past, present, and future.