No greater love


John 15:9-17

Marian Free

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

While most of us know the story of ANZAC Day, I’m not sure how many of us know the history of its commemoration and the part played by an Anglican and a Queenslander. A day in the midst of war is perhaps an unusual date for remembrance, especially a day on which so many lives were lost and which in military terms was anything but a success.

Interestingly, the history of the commemoration begins in Queensland and it begins as long ago as January 1916 when the then Premier met with the Recruiting Committee –whose primary goal was to encourage young men to enlist. However, the loss of so many men on April 25 – Queenslanders were the first ashore – suggested the importance of setting aside the day for a solemn commemoration. Canon Garland an Anglican priest who spoke strongly in support of this idea, was elected to lead the committee to plan the commemoration.

From the beginning the service was a multi-faith event which was in many ways a requiem for the fallen and Garland enthusiastically supported the day as Australia’s “All Soul’s Day”. Once the day was established in Brisbane, Garland urged all the mayors in other Australian (and New Zealand) cities to follow suit. He also lobbied hard that ANZAC Day become a public holiday in the same way as Good Friday and in 1930 this was enacted throughout the nation.

Garland, an Orangeman, clearly drew on the custom of an annual march, but despite his sectarian background, he was well aware of the divergent Christian, not to mention religious traditions in Australia. Originally, all churches were encouraged to hold their own commemorations before their members joined a public service at the War Memorial. At the public service hymns that were non-Trinitarian were sung and sensitivity towards the multitude of faiths and no faith led Garland to introduce the minute’s silence in which each person could pray, or reflect in their own way.

From the beginning the committee were clear that ANZAC Day was not intended to glorify war. All the chaplains agreed it was to be a day of remembrance and a day to recognise the sin that gave rise to national conflict and the nation’s need to atone for that sin. This is expressed in a sermon given by Rudolf Otto in St John’s Cathedral in 1924 referring to the Cross of Sacrifice in Toowong cemetery:

“The memorial in its noble dignity proclaims, as befits a Christian people, the great sacrifice of Calvary; and unites therefore the sacrifice of those who also laid down their lives for their friends. Its inscription is no less dignified than the memorial itself: Their Name Liveth for Evermore.” On Anzac Day we gather collectively, and plead for them the Sacrifice of Calvary, to which they united themselves by offering their souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice, after the example of Him who by word and from the pulpit of the Cross taught that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Thus in the House of God, pleading at the Altar of God, we find the most comfort, not the sorrow of those without hope for them that sleep in Him, nor the swamping of our grief in noisy demonstrations; but by emphasizing in mind and thought the reality of that life beyond the veil where they live for evermore, and where some day we, too, shall meet them. Thus again there is no room for anything but a solemn observance of Anzac Day – the All Souls’ Day of Australia – and so we come before God not in the bright vestments of festival and the joyous music of triumph; but with the tokens of Christian penitence and sorrow for the sin of the world which caused the sacrifice of those bright young lives, our dearest and our best.”[1]

[1] I am indebted to and heavily dependent on an article by Dr John Moses. “Anzac Day as Australia’s All Souls’ Day: Canon David John Garland’s Vision for Commemoration of the Fallen”

[A paper given at “Christian Mission in the Public Square”, a conference of the Australian Association for Mission Studies (AAMS) and the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre of Charles Sturt University, held at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C) in Canberra from 2 to 5 October 2008.]


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