Easter, ANZAC Day and the surprising link between the two

Maple Hot Crossed Buns
by QuintanaRoo.

Let's talk about Easter.

Easter. For some, it's a convenient reason to take a holiday, but not much more. While for others, it's also a time of reflection about the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. In this post, I reflect on the significance of Easter, particularly through making a comparison between the 'ANZAC legend'  and Jesus.

First, let's do a bit of a history lesson.

 ANZAC day is observed around the world on April 25 to commemorate the Allied soldiers who died in World War I (WWI). ANZAC stands for 'Australian and New Zealand Army Corps', particularly referring to the armies from both countries who fought together in the attacks on the Turkish defenses in Gallipoli. But ANZAC day also commemorates more generally the enormous loss of Allied forces on the western front in northern France and southern Belgium, as well as losses in the Gaza-Palestine campaign. Tellingly, in Australian popular imagination the incredibly bloody battles on the western front are arguably less remembered than the iconic Gallipoli campaign between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916 (*see below). This symbolic campaign for Australians, according to Charles Bean, resulted in the birth of the 'Anzac spirit':

"Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valor in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat."

Regardless of the accuracy of this historical interpretation of the behaviour of the Anzac soldiers, it has heavily influenced Australian culture. Since ANZAC follows the Easter weekend each year, I thought it logical to consider the link between Easter and the slippery term 'Anzac spirit'. Let's consider the following traits attributed to the 'Anzacs': underdog, loyalty to country, lack of respect to high authority, endurance and finally comradeship.

The underdogs

 Underdog. In World War I, the Australian soldiers were eager to prove themselves. Just a quarter of a century before, Australia had formed as the Commonwealth on January 1, 1901, and Australians really wanted be respected as a nation and a significant player on the world stage. But they were the newbies. I can imagine that not a few soldiers in the Allied forces from other nations wondered aloud about the Aussies' convict heritage. And yet the Aussie Anzacs were known for their battle skills and resourcefulness.
Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus' experience in  the first century was that of the underdog too. Jesus was born in the context of the Roman army's vice grip over his people, the Jews. Jesus was born in unusual circumstances which looked like an out-of-wedlock birth to the average person, a very embarrassing thing given the cultural context. (The Bible maintains that he was born of a virgin, through the Holy Spirit.) Jesus was a Galilean, from the least popular region in Israel as it was occupied by a Roman garrison. During Jesus' period public life from age roughly 30 to 33, he had a mixed bag of responses. At times, people were scrabbling to him for healing or just out of curiosity, and then at others, people wanted to kill him due to his unpopular teachings.  Like the Anzac underdogs, Jesus was underestimated, ridiculed and marginalised. And again, they both showed that they were much bigger than the box others put them in.

Loyalty at what price?

Loyalty to country. The Anzacs were faithful soldiers, fighting to the death for their nation and indeed for other nations. At great cost-- the ultimate cost-- they fought on the Western front, as well as in the Gaza-Palestine and  Gallipoli campaigns. Similarly, Jesus was faithful to his people, yet they did not recognise it. Jesus was there to save his people from a regime that was larger and far more profound than just a military rescue from the oppressive Roman Empire. Jesus announced to his people, and indeed to the world, that he "came to seek and to save the lost (NIV)". Lost? People who are lost from God.

Personal loyalties

 Jesus was also faithful to God his father. If you've ever seen an Easter video such as 'The Passion of Jesus Christ' (Mel Gibson), you will know that Jesus has a point of excruciating emotional pain in the Garden of Gethsemane (or "Geth" for short lol). In Geth, Jesus is praying alone with his some 11 disciples nearby (Judas,the twelth disciple,had deserted him to give him away for 30 silver coins). In the gospel of Mark, Jesus says in his prayer, "Abba, Father… everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (NIV).” Basically, he was saying he was going to be loyal to his father, despite the cost. He owned for himself the mandate from his father, despite knowing it would mean taking the judgement of his own father in the place of people who were lost from God. Thus Jesus was loyal to his father, in contrast to the more corporate loyalty of the Anzacs to their country.

No respecters of authority

According to the Anzac legend, the Aussie soldiers in WWI were no respecters of authority. They laughed in the face of great adversity, disliked overbearing commanders and showed what is nowadays known as 'Tall Poppy Syndrome'. Again, Jesus, in contrast, respected God the Father's authority even when it would cost dearly. Indeed, He pointed people's attention to God his father when all eyes were on himself, such as during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (NIV, John 12:42)." Certainly, Jesus is claiming something about himself which is exceptional: being the exact physical representation of God. At the same time, he doesn't soak up all the credit. Instead, he also points to his 'script-writer' with whom he completely cooperates with (if you'll pardon the analogy). He wasn't a solo-act; he was speaking and acting on behalf of another. To do justice to Jesus' ideas about authority, I think I'll write another post on that topic.

No Pain, No Gain

Endurance. The Anzacs were prime examples of this characteristic, with their iron determination to stand ground in Gallipoli when in strategically weaker positions. Likewise, Jesus had an endurance during his life, particularly shown by his determination to follow his father's plan of dying as a criminal for a world which didn't much care for him. He didn't feel like it, like the Anzacs, (getting killed isn't fun) but imagine how much less motivated, humanly speaking, he would have been than the Anzacs for sticking to the task at hand! After all, the Anzacs were eager to prove themselves as well as support their newly formed commonwealth. They had much to gain for their country, albeit while risking their own lives. Jesus had everything to lose. The loss of his close connection with his father God, the intensely physical suffering of crucifixion and the ridicule of his own people. Yet, amazingly, Jesus in his un-humanlike, godly kindness thought it was worth suffering deeply to rescue all of us from the mess we are in.


 Australians like calling this "mateship". This idea brings together the ideas of equality for all and an informality that crosses cultural and social barriers. The Anzacs typified  'getting a job done' by working as a highly effective team. Although Aussie soldiers may have tended to  dislike superiors, they brought a sense of egalitarianism--the belief that everyone should get treated in the same way--to the battlefield where they were fighting alongside French, English, Irish as well as other nations in the Allied forces. Notably, stretcher bearer Simpson with his donkey epitomised this value and indeed the 'Anzac legend' in the Gallipoli campaign by sacrificing his life to rescue the wounded. In a sense, true mateship is at the heart of what Easter is about! Jesus, the maker of the world is sent by his father, to live as a man among his creatures, showing God's open invitation to friendship to all who would listen. In essence, Easter is about God, the most important person in world, crossing the divide (or if you like, the throne room) to relate to an unimportant people who dislike him as their ruler. Indeed, Easter is about the egality and open generosity of God, shown in Jesus' words: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Dig deeper

Want to know more about Jesus? Why not read the shortest gospel account by Mark? For more resources, click here. Check out my other recent posts on Easter here and here. If you have any questions, please post them below!

Just for the record*

Remembrance Day (or Armistice Day) is observed annually in Commonwealth countries on November 11, marking the signing of the Armistice by the German army at 11am, November 11, 1918. This signified the end of most of the war between the Allies and Germany. However, even after this signing, there were battles in other regions which raged on for some time. Usually, Remembrance Day is commemorated by simply 2 minutes of silence at 11am, whether in the workplace, in a school or in Parliament.

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