For some time now I have been trying to work out how to do liturgy that really honours the courage and sacrifice of people who have fought in war, and at the same time speaks to the gospel call to peacemaking witness.
For me, the obvious starting point is that any remembrance has to be themed around the statement ‘never again!’ – nothing else really gets close to honoring the experiences of the utter depravity that soldiers so consistently report.
Anyway, this Anzac Day I had another go. I decided to structure the service around dual symbolic lists – one a litany for the victims of war, the other a calling forth of the spirit of great peacemaking saints. I welcome your thoughts!
The setup was to have everyone (about 10 last night) in a circle around a small low altar, covered in black cloth, with a cross, a lit candle, and an empty glass bowl surrounded by small tea light candles (in our case, in red ‘cups’ that people might know from Taizé services).
Text in bold is for everyone to say together.
L In this space we take time to remember the horrors of war. We remember in order to grieve; we remember in order to give thanks; we remember in order to say ‘never again’. (Pours water into bowl) This water is for the tears shed by all who have lost loved ones, lost their way, lost hope. (Holds up rosemary) The rosemary is a sign of remembrance, worn by diggers and their families, a sign of fidelity to those who did not make it home.
(after each verse in the litany, the reader drops sprig of rosemary into bowl of tears, and passes on this sheet to person on their left)
V1 We remember the fallen soldiers, from all countries, in all wars. We lament the loss of precious, beautiful, creative lives. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V2 We remember the soldiers who came home haunted by the ghosts of war. We lament the trauma, the shattered lives, the society that did not want to understand. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V3 We remember ‘the war to end all wars’. We lament that we have learned nothing. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V4 We remember the nurses and doctors who cared for the wounded. We lament forcing them to make impossible choices about who would live and who would die. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V5 We remember the women who have increasingly borne the violence of war. We lament the systematic use of rape as a weapon of terror. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V6 We remember the children who have been caught in war zones. We lament the lost innocence, the conscription of child soldiers, and the disproportionate affect of landmines and cluster bomblets. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V7 We remember the people of Israel and Palestine, caught in a hopeless cycle of violence with no end in sight. We lament there are not enough people of courage like Jimmy Carter, willing to talk to all sides to resolve conflict. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V8 We remember the soldiers and civilians in Iraq, trapped in an occupation nobody knows how to end. We lament that we did not do enough to stop our leaders from waging war. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V9 We remember the abuse of just war theory to support wars. We lament that our church has blessed wars, blessed tyrants, even blessed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
V10 We remember our church that preaches peace. We lament that we, the church, rarely act boldly to create it. Lest we forget. Lest we forget
L We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total–but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. (Fr Daniel Berrigan SJ)
Words of Assurance
L The good news is that Jesus came to show us a new way – a way out of the dark spiral of violence, into the light of peace. Jesus freely offers forgiveness, and invites us into a community of grace. Another world is not just possible. It is already here!
A Thanks be to God!
L God of Peace, we give you thanks for the prophets you have risen among us, women and men of courage and grace who witness to the dream of peace in a world of war. People who do not just desire peace, they make peace happen. We remember with thanks:
(a candle is lit as each name is read out)
(¡Presenté! literally means “here” or “present” in Spanish. There is a long tradition in Latin American movements for justice of invoking the memory of martyrs and saints who show us the way to God’s reign of justice and peace.)
V1 St Francis of Assisi, who refused to make war in the Holy Land. Presenté!
V2 George Fox and the early Quakers, who dared to believe in a nonviolent God. Presenté!
V3 Mohandas Gandhi, who taught nonviolence to the world. Presenté!
V4 Martin Luther King, who showed Christians how to love their enemies. Presenté!
V5 Christian Peacemaker Teams, who devote the same discipline and sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war. Presenté!
V6 Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and Ploughshares activists around the world, who risk all to disarm the world’s nuclear arsenals and war machines. Presenté!
V7 John Paul Lederach and all who work around the world to transform conflict into just peace. Presenté!
V8 Christians against all Terrorism, and the small groups of Australians who do not remain passive in response to Australian complicity in war. Presenté!
(People are invited to name witnesses to peace who inspire them)
L We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses for peace and justice. May they hold us close as we struggle to uphold Christ’s calling as peacemakers in the world today.