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Monday, 30 April 2012

Remembering Anzac Day

There has been much discussion across all forms of the media about "remembering Anzac Day", or was it "remembering" the soldiers who died and were wounded, firstly at Gallipoli and then World War 1 of who died for their nation, or who paid "the ultimate sacrifice". Note the theologically loaded language here. Christians should have problems with this term. It brings us back within whispering distance of attempts to explain the significance of Jesus' death as political victim of non-resistant messianic encounter with the Roman imperial power.

But I digress. All in all last week while there was a great deal about "remembering", much of it fairly vague until the consensus about who and what we were "remembering" was brought under question. First Nations peoples wanted to "remember"  those of their nations who were killed in the occupation of this country and in the frontier wars. They were firmly ruled out of the official process.  Previously women's attempts to" remember" those who were victims of rape in war were also excluded from participation in the official public ceremonies of "remembering". So who gets "remembered" was contested, though the apparent official guardians of the scope of our "remembering", the RSL, ensured that the boundaries were suitably policed.

But what are we doing in our "remembering"? There was, to judge from letters to the editor of the Canberra Times, very little clarity, or community agreement about the significance and meaning of the public ceremonies of "remembering". And this is interesting because it makes clear that the whole controversy relates to a public process, or ritual. Individuals after all can stop on any occasion of significance to them and "remember" those of their family and friends who were killed or suffered in war without official sanction. This "remembering"at an individual or family level involves a bringing someone to mind, and grieving for their suffering, that they did not go on to live life to its full extent, in some way or another, and that for those who were known personally to us, that we have been deprived of their presence.

But controversy there was about meaning. For some it was a moment to affirm the horrors of war and say "never again". For others it was about affirming the significance of the "sacrifice" of those who were killed and acknowledging how much we "owed" them, how we should be prepared to offer ourselves to our country in gratitude. The language used was religious to its core. It made very clear that as William Cavanaugh has argued that "the holy" has migrated from the church to the nation/state.

Christians should take note of this migration and be prepared to assess the claims of the state when they come clothed with the aura of "the holy" and the language of sacrifice. After all according to the earliest Christians, Christ's death meant the end of sacrifice and its claims on human life. The primary "remembering" to which Christians are called is to the meal shared which celebrates Christ's life, death and resurrection and the end of sacrifice, a meal in which the barriers that would divide those who are "holy" from the "profane" are broken down as we recognise Jesus in the sharing of bread with the stranger.

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