Tomorrow is ANZAC day, and Evensong tonight will be a special celebration — a time to remember that day, now over a century ago, on which the ANZAC troops landed, disastrously, on the wrong patch of beach in Gallipoli Cove. It was an eight-month campaign which saw 25,000 casualties and almost nine thousand deaths, and it began on this day one hundred and one years ago.
The choir will commemorate this with music, of course. John Ireland wrote tonight’s anthem Greater Love in 1912, before the wholesale bloodshed of the war that would shape the 20th century; but the words we will sing tonight ring as true at the beginning of the following century:
Many waters cannot quench love,
nor can the floods drown it. Love is strong as death.
Greater love hath no man than this:
that a man lays down his life
for his friends.
It would be easy to think that Gallipoli was the most brutal campaign of the First World War; but this was the war that gave us the trenches, the battle grounds of the Eastern Front, the hellish conditions of the Middle East. This was a war which saw almost forty members of the Australian armed forces die each of the 1,560 days of the war — to say nothing of the hundred and fifty five thousand Australian men wounded, gassed, or returned home shellshocked and shattered. Worldwide, the Great War was responsible for over eight million human deaths.
It would be easy to think that this was the only horror of the twentieth century, the only indiscriminate slaughter of human beings; but this century has seen the horror of war after war, of genocide, of bloody civil conflict, of famines and of waves of desperate, traumatised refugees. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the world has seen an estimated 187 million deaths as a result of war. The world has not known peace these last hundred and sixteen years.
When we sing Douglas Guest’s For the Fallen tonight, we will promise that “at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them”. We will not only remember those nine thousand killed at Gallipoli; we will remember those who came home, battered and broken and unable to live their lives. We will remember the 187 million. We will remember the countless unrecorded millions whose lives have been desecrated by the brutality of human conflict.
And we will also sing a Canticle of Thanksgiving, written just last year by our own Director of Music. We will sing those beautiful chords, and allow them to build and strengthen as we sing of hope, and as we pray that the word of the God we sing to will be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. We will remind ourselves of the knowledge of God’s loving-kindness for the whole suffering, breaking, beautiful creation, and we will glorify the Creator, and in that canticle we will be praying: we will pray that the light of the Christ whom we worship will shatter the darkness, in our own hearts and in our suffering world; we will pray that the footsteps of all humanity will be guided towards healing and peace by the God who knows intimately what it is to suffer and weep.
It’s not much, against the darkness of a century’s battles, of the wars that rage around us even as we commemorate ANZAC day. But we will sing of hope, and of love, and of light in darkness. And we will trust that the Creator of the universe will guide us in the way of peace, and the music that we sing, tonight and every Evensong, will make the world just a little bit brighter.
And above all, we will pray, and we will hope for peace.