He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV)
This coming Sunday, 11 November, will be Remembrance Day. 2018 marks 100 years since the signing of the Armistice between European powers that ended what we now call World War One of 1914-18. It had been the world’s first mechanised multi-national, multi-continent, global conflict. It ended the notion of limited warfare between developed nations and ushered in a new, far more dangerous era of total annihilation.
During the Great War, as it was known at the time, its sheer futility made some optimistically think it would be ‘the war to end all wars’, as it would lead to the collapse of governments and the attitudes that led to war. Many of the key factors that led to that massive war do appear today to be trivial and even absurd, but it was naïve to think such a war, no matter how devastating, could alter basic human nature! Jesus warned of that, saying of the end times, ‘When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’ (Mark 13:7 NRSV) In all of human history there has probably never been a time when there wasn’t one or more violent conflicts going on somewhere in the world.
The usual Remembrance Day focus in Australia and New Zealand is on our servicemen and women who served and who were killed or injured in the line of duty. This is a good tradition and we should continue to respect it. I myself will remember two great uncles, one killed at Lone Pine on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1914, and the other, tragically, during the last-ditch German push along the Somme, less than two weeks before the Armistice.
This Sunday, however, I encourage you to also spread your focus more widely. Thousands of people have migrated to our two countries as a result of war, often as refugees. Many have found haven in Christian churches, including among Lutherans. These folk may never have heard of Gallipoli, the Somme, Tobruk or Kokoda, places that resonate with those of us familiar with our shared ANZAC history. They have come from devastating wars we can scarcely comprehend, some of which we are barely even aware of, in countries like Bosnia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Sudan, Congo or Myanmar. They carry life-long, scarring memories of the lives of loved ones lost or damaged. Aboriginal Australians may also experience similar painful memories when they hear of Myall Creek, Slaughterhouse Creek, Tempe Downs or Coniston, some of the places associated with the mass murder of Aboriginal men, women and children during the undeclared, generations-long struggle between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, which some regard as a war in all but name.
So this Remembrance Day, let us remember and lament war in all its forms, wherever it occurs, and bring to mind the command of Jesus which we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31 NRSV)
We give thanks
- that, while we acknowledge our countries are not perfect, Australia and New Zealand continue to be among the most secure and peaceful countries in the world;
- for the men and women who over the years have given their lives to protect us from danger and tyranny, and for those who still face danger daily on our behalf;
- for the important and hard-won freedoms defended in war.
- with those who have suffered loss and harm through war;
- humanity’s repeated failure to prevent war;
- the tribalism and hunger for exclusive power and control that lie behind many present-day wars.
We repent and ask forgiveness
- for war propaganda that allies God to one side or another and which promotes racial and religious hatred;
- for all the other terrible consequences of war;
- for past reluctance to share the benefits of the peace we enjoy with the whole of society – particularly with Australia’s first peoples.
- for civilians caught up in war and for efforts to bring them relief;
- for servicemen and women currently on deployment and their families awaiting their safe return home;
- for people struggling to recover from war and for all who help them;
- for chaplains in parliaments and defence forces, that they may be a force for good;
- for political and military leaders who decide if and how nations take part in war, that they may act wisely, responsibly and prayerfully;
- for greater commitment to resolving disagreements in just and peaceful ways;
- for efforts to conduct war ethically when it cannot be avoided;
- for fair solutions to bring to an end wars currently going on around the world;
- for people who work to reveal the truth of war that justice may eventually be done;
- for the time when war is no more, and all people live in prosperity and peace, free to love and serve God with all their being.
Your brother in Christ,
Lutheran Church of Australia.
- LCA statement ‘War, peace and conscientious objection to service in war’ (1987) available at http://www.lca.org.au/departments/commissions/cticr. Scroll down to Doctrinal Statements and Opinions, Volume 1, H. Ethical and Social Issues.
- University of Newcastle historian Lyndall Ryan’s project to identify massacre sites where settlers and (vastly greater numbers of) Aboriginal people were killed during Australia’s frontier wars. She and her research team have created an interactive map of massacre site locations. Their investigations began in eastern Australia and are moving west; hence the absence of markers yet in Western Australia.