It was a solemn service this morning, as thousands of people converged on the grounds of our Nation's War Memorial in the darkness of the pre-dawn hour. It's an annual ritual here in Australia and New Zealand, a day when we remember the sacrifices of war, and the common bonds that were forged on a far-away battlefield. Anzac's, they were called. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corp.
We stood in respectful silence. I could picture the bloodshed, the terror, the sheer courage it must have taken to advance even one step let alone take a whole ridge, because not so long ago our family gathered the sunscreen and hats and cameras, and after a breakfast of cucumber and tomato, we boarded a minibus full of tourists ready for the experience of a lifetime. That day, we would tour the Battlefields of Gallipoli.
Our guide's thick Turkish accent made it difficult to catch the torrent of information he had to share with us, but one thing was clear. The battle of Gallipoli was fraught from the start. How our boys even made it out of the boats with a volley of Turkish gunfire raining down on them from up above and all around, we can’t imagine.
All I know was, after six hours of bumping along from one site to another, pausing at each in an attempt to comprehend scenes from a century past, surveying the impossible terrain, taking in one graphic account after another of soldiers trying desperately to make their country proud, to take some ground, to advance against an enemy they didn't even hate, we'd got the picture. The Turks were on home soil; they knew the lay of the land better than our boys could ever have, and they came with centuries of battle and feud in their blood. ‘Every Turk is born a Soldier,’ they still teach their children.
So it had been a long day and now we'd run out of water. We'd walked the hills in the scorching heat, stood at the rocky lookouts, read the heart wrenching tombstones, and payed our respects at the statue of the unknown soldier. We'd taken in one story after another, and all the while, the very atmosphere around us seemed, even after all these decades, to still hold a weight of deep, unspeakable sorrow.
'One last stop,' our guide said, as he gestured to the driver to pull over to the side of the road. 'You can get out here.' We sighed. We’d had six hours of getting in and out of the bus, of taking in the atrocities of this remote, dusty, wearying place and of listening respectfully to long-winded history lessons. We wanted to go home. Our children wanted to go home.
And then, we saw the trenches. The very trenches where our soldiers once hid and aimed and fired and retreated, but now they looked for all the world like a great children's maze, with tunnels and bridges and little alleyways leading off in all directions. I can understand why our children looked at us with questioning eyes. All day they'd had to be quiet, to show respect, to keep still. This was a vast graveyard we were on, after all.
But now, we smiled and nodded the answer they were craving. 'Yes, you can! Go and have fun in the trenches!' And that's all it took. Suddenly our children were energized. For the next twenty minutes they ducked and ran and dodged and played, chasing each other down, outsmarting enemies, rescuing soldiers, jumping over mounds of dirt and sneakily peering around corners. By the time it came to board the bus, our spirits had thoroughly lifted.
And I believe the Lord is saying to his children today, 'You get to have fun in the trenches.’
And we do, because despite the fact we're in an atmosphere of battle between good and evil, and though we may be actively engaged in contending for those around us, or fighting an enemy that sometimes seems to be resourced on every side, the reality is, the victory is won, the war is over, and like children playing capture the flag, we get to run into the enemy camp with a level of joy and lightheartedness that might even seem inappropriate in light of the conflict, but there it is.
And so God's people give a cheer! We're the ones who get to run! We get to retrieve another soul, grab back what is rightfully ours - maybe some peace or some joy or some hope for the future; we get to play plunder-the-enemy, to tag each other and say, ‘your turn; you’re it!’, we get to cheer as our brothers and sisters get fresh breakthrough, and even our contending starts to feel like fun when we know the outcome is a done deal and we're all in this together.
'If you become as little children,' the Scriptures say, and I’m picturing my kids at Gallipoli, certainly aware that they were in the scene of a once-deadly battle, yet without the fear. Without the risk of death or defeat or desertion.
I feel many of us have gotten battle weary. We’ve fought for our kids, we’ve fought for our marriages, we’ve stood our ground when the enemy went after us en mass, and we’ve done it all in a world that’s not our native home.
This ANZAC day, God is saying to His people, ‘you get to have fun in the trenches.’
But I think there's something more. You see, the fun is in the trenches. For some of us, it's time to get out of the bus. It's time to get out there and be a bit carefree, to pray some bold prayers, make some outrageous requests, claim some spoils, to plunder what the enemy has taken, because Yes, it's okay! You get to have fun in the trenches! And, you get to do it together with your brothers and sisters all over the world.
'Shake off your shoes,' I hear the Lord say, 'let the dust get between your toes! It’s been a long day, and I don’t want you to arrive home heavy-hearted.'