How can we honour without gathering?

Nothing will ever be able to match the experience I had last year of standing in the middle of the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot, in Belgium. Row after row after row of white grave markers, identical in size and design signifying the remains of over 11,900 brave individuals lay beneath. My mind had difficulty comprehending the quantity of the Allied forces lives lost and buried there.

I wish this was the only site of it’s kind, but we visited a number of these memorial locations all along the Western Front and it was the scale of loss that brought me to tears each and every time. So many lives cut short in the ‘war to end all wars’ and yet we know that it wasn’t because it hasn’t.

Despite these sobering encounters, I was anticipating being able to engage on a different level in all of the ANZAC commemoration services this year. I believed that because I had stood on the battlefields I would more readily be able to picture the locations and pause with more purpose. With all ANZAC gatherings cancelled this year I am left wondering, how will we be able to honour those that sacrificed so much for us?

In the past it has been so simple to demonstrate our gratitude for those that fought so valiantly for our freedom. We would wear a poppy, and then turn up to dawn services, or marches down the main street and gather at the town memorial where wreaths are laid and the Ode shared. We could even tune in to broadcasts from other major cities and strategic sites and vicariously participate in recognition of the cost of war.

None of this will be able to happen this year. I am aware that this decision is devastating for many people, but also recognise it is in the best interests for the communities as a whole. If we are not able to visibly demonstrate on mass our appreciation for those who have served in combat on our behalf does that mean that we don’t have said appreciation? Of course not. In fact, the significance of their sacrificial service also does not diminish in any way.

There have been a few suggestions on social media on how we can still separately, but unitedly, pause to honour our ‘Diggers’ on ANZAC Day this year. Whether or not we choose to do something visible, or create our own ritual I would encourage you to do something.

The website for the Australian War Memorial (awm.gov.au) has plenty of excellent resources to explore. You might like to consider making an online donation directly to Legacy Australia to continue to support the families of injured or killed servicemen and women. So instead of our attitude towards our armed forces being visible to all, it needs to be more of a personal, inward focus this year.

Similarly, it reminds me of the sacrificial demonstration of love that Jesus gave us. In the same way, his death and it’s meaning is not diminished depending on how many people publicly honour him and his teaching. Just as we are unable to gather for our regular worship services and events it in no way reduces the impact of his death and resurrection for each and every one of us. Again, it will be about our personal, inward focus.

Jesus himself said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) and so I believe that, at least for a time, we need to ensure that our inward attitude about him, and others, is nurtured in readiness for our reengagement with the wider society.

Lest We Forget.

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