Easter 2 • 23 Apr 2017

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Rev. Chris Udy

A few years ago,
as part of our celebration
of Ginie’s 50th birthday,
we, and some of our extended family
visited Turkey.
The highlight of the tour was, of course,
Ginie’s birthday,
but coming a close second
to that wonderful celebration
was our visit to the Gallipoli peninsula,
and especially ANZAC Cove.
I think almost everyone has seen images
of that little stretch of grass,
surrounded by graveyards and memorials,
where the ANZAC dawn services are held each year.
In the telecasts it looks much larger,
but it’s really quite small –
about the same size as a football field -
a tiny flat, open space
sacrificially cleared and carefully maintained
at the foot of the escarpment
up which the original ANZAC troops
had to slip and struggle for every foot
under fire from above
and under orders from below
to take and keep their beachhead
and to advance against Turkish positions
dug into the ridge.

On the day we were there
it was beautiful:
warm and green and quiet;
carefully tended gardens full of colour;
a fishing boat out on the water
and the marble memorials and headstones
shining in the sun.
Almost without speaking,
everybody lined up
behind the wall that spells out the word ‘ANZAC’;
my Dad produced, from somewhere,
a silk poppy that he held in his hand
and we took a hundred photos,
as if to prove that we,
along with all those thousands -
probably millions now -
of people proud to call themselves Australians;
to prove that we have also been there,
to ANZAC Cove and to the battlefields
where so many young Australian soldiers
died bravely,
but on what, we now know,
was such a costly, and such a futile mission.

That was the second time
Ginie and I had been to ANZAC Cove,
and on both occasions it was very moving
to see how people engaged with what they saw.
Both times we saw people take off their shoes
and walk across the sand and pebbles on the beach
to stand knee-deep in the water,
almost as if they were compelled to re-enact,
in some symbolic way,
what took place in that first ANZAC landing.
Both times people walked along the beach
to a place where the land and the vegetation
looked as you’d imagine it might have been
in April 1915 -
and then tried to climb back up to the road above.
The rocks and soils along that coast
are dry and friable -
so it isn’t at all easy to make progress -
and the natural vegetation there
is full of spikes and thorns - it’s very hostile -
but still, many of those who visit Gallipoli
tackle the slopes, the dirt and the thorns,
wanting to see and feel
a fragment of what it might have been like
to have been there on that morning
when ANZAC troops first landed on that beach.

Words and stories are helpful;
maps and pictures make things clear,
but nothing takes the place of experience.
It’s when what we hear
and see and touch
and smell and taste all comes together -
that we know
that what we’re dealing with has substance -
we know we’re starting to work with something real.

Walking on the beach
and climbing the slopes of ANZAC Cove
adds another dimension to ANZAC Day.
It gives a scent and texture
to the images and stories;
it grounds our admiration
of the courage and tenacity
of the soldiers on both sides of that terrible battle;
it gives us reason to be wary
of anyone who could suggest
that the killing and dying of warfare
could ever be glorious;
and it makes us wonder
what humanity might achieve
if we put as much energy and creativity and passion
into making peace
as we do into making war.

Nothing takes the place of experience.
Ideas and stories need to be backed up
with something substantive,
something true and real.
Maybe that’s why, this year,
in response to travel advice
and official warnings about political instability
and problems with security in Turkey,
there seems to be
an added sense of loss,
that, this year, and perhaps into the future,
this tradition of ANZAC pilgrimage
may no longer be possible,
and that our connection
to this significant place
and those significant stories
may be taken away.

Nothing takes the place of experience.

But that also means that,
despite all we might do
to engage with the experience of war,
none of us really come close
to its terrible reality.
Visiting Gallipoli, and walking the Kokoda trail,
and attending services –
especially when it takes some effort to get there -
deepens our awareness and appreciation,
but doing those things on a holiday,
or even as pilgrimage,
misses the central point
that when those who fought those battles did so,
history was in the balance,
and the outcome of their struggle
could easily have gone another way.
ANZAC Day especially reminds us
that if all the battles of the First World War
had concluded like Gallipoli,
the world would be a different place today.
We might seek experience
and be moved and enriched
by what we see and hear,
and touch and taste and smell,
but that doesn’t mean we’ve captured
what it was to be part of that deadly struggle,
nor can we fully understand the cost
it imposed on those who were there.

What we can do
is respond with respect and gratitude;
listening to and honouring the stories -
the distilled experience -
of those who offered their service and their lives
to defend what they understood
were the highest values
and most precious ideals of their age;
re-membering them -
incorporating their experience, as much as we can,
in the way we see the world,
and, following their example
of service and sacrifice,
offering ourselves to further and defend
the values and ideals
that make us fully and proudly and bravely human.

Nothing takes the place of experience -
but we can’t live in someone else’s memory,
so, in the end,
we need to live our lives as they have,
taking on the challenges and struggles
this moment in history,
hoping and working for a world
where differences are settled without bloodshed,
where human life - all human life -
is valued and respected,
where the resources of the earth
are shared in peace with justice,
and where the earth itself
is cared for and protected.

Nothing takes the place of experience,
so we need to live with an ANZAC spirit,
recognising that, for many people,
the issues that have taken Australians to war
are still at risk and in balance around us today.
We might not be called to bear arms
and wear uniforms
to stand on the side of freedom
or defend human dignity -
but that struggle is as difficult and costly today,
in Australia and around the world,
as it was in Europe a century ago -
and if we really want to honour
those who offered their service
and gave their lives,
we also need
to take the lessons we learn from remembrance
and follow the example
of those who have served in times of war
in the hope of building a world at peace.

Nothing takes the place of experience -
and today we read,
as we do every year on the Sunday after Easter,
the story of Thomas and his unbelief.
Thomas had missed out
on the experience of resurrection
when Jesus had appeared to the other disciples.
So Thomas refused to believe
the stories the others told him
until he saw the mark of the nails
and put his finger into the side of Jesus.
The story is about experience.
Thomas wants what the other disciples have had,
but even when Jesus appears to them again,
the experience Thomas has is not the same.
Jesus invites him to touch his hands and side,
but there’s nothing in the story
to say that he does so.
what he
does do is honour his own experience:
he reflects on what it is he’s seeing and hearing,
and he’s the first to understand and to say:
“My Lord and my God.”

Jesus offers himself
in service and sacrifice
for the world he loves:
a world where human life - all human life -
is valued and respected,
where the resources of the earth
are shared in peace with justice,
and where the earth itself
is cared for and protected.
He offered himself
in a moment of history
when all those values and ideals
were at risk and under threat,
and he gave himself
in the hope of building a world at peace.
Every time we gather for worship,
or come to the communion table
we listen to and honour his story;
we incorporate, as much as we can,
his experience
in the way we see the world,
and we re-member him -
we give him arms and legs
and voices and faces
as we seek to follow his example
in service and sacrifice.

Many of those who offered themselves
for service in times of war
understood that what they were doing
was partly in response
to the example they had seen
in the life of Jesus.
They responded to the call
of that moment in history,
offering themselves
to further and defend
the hopes and values Jesus lived and died for -
hopes and values
that have the potential
to build a world at peace,
hopes and values
that make us fully, and bravely,
and proudly human.