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Dawn Vigils in Lockdown… but it’s not Resurrection Sunday

Friday, 24 April 2020  | Paul Tyson

For the first time in my life I did not attend Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday church services. This is because it is 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic is on and church services are presently illegal. And as we all know, Christians are good law-abiding types and simply do what the authorities tell us to do. But, apart from all the usual virtual reality substitutes, we are not very creative. No nation-wide dawn vigils, for example, in our driveways on Resurrection Sunday. But Anzac Day, now we are talking national religious significance, now we are talking about rolling out wide scale innovative liturgical alternatives.

I received a short note in my letter-box from a young man in our street who plays the trumpet. He informed me that because “Australia is in mandated isolation… and we are unable to gather together at our usual Anzac Day ceremonies” and that at 6am on Saturday 25th April he would be playing the last post at the top of his driveway – along with other Australians who will be following the suggestion of the RSL. He invited my family and I to get candles and stand in our street to observe a minute of silence with the other gathered Australians in our street for this important reflection on the sacrifices of our national war-fallen heroes. This is something “the RSL, along with many others, are encouraging residents [to do]”. He goes on to note: “We may be isolated, but we can still be united on ANZAC Day. Lest we forget”.

I hardly know how to go on with this piece from here. If I were to say that Anzac Day is a horrifying parody of the passion of Christ, who would know what I was talking about? If I were to say that Christ gains victory over the grave and we quietly forget to celebrate it during a global pandemic, whilst our non-religious compatriots commemorate the dead whether or not the pandemic is on, who would see the bitter irony there? If I wondered about the complicity of the church in the cult of nationalistic militarism I would be howled down as un-Australian and un-Christian. So I don’t really know what I can say about this. Perhaps I can say one thing. Religion is alive and well in Australia, but Christianity is over.

Paul Tyson is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.


James Reiher
April 25, 2020, 7:52AM
Hi Paul, thanks for this. You certainly share with your heart on your sleeve. A lot of what you say is true...

In some ways, it actually does not surprise me that Australia is not very Christian and we put more effort into ANZAC day than Easter. But maybe that has been the way it has been for a very long time.

It seems to me that Aussies love our diggers and our sport much more than we think about God or Christ. It is how it is. We are a 'secular' community that has so sanitized the Christian faith and made such accommodation for all things western and modern, that it hardly looks anything like the Christianity of Jesus or the first disciples.

But is this really a surprise? It isn't something that has just appeared.

Hey: maybe I see it more in Victoria than you do in Queensland. Our impression down here is that you guys are more religious than us lot!

Thanks for sharing so honestly.
Howard Harris
April 25, 2020, 12:51PM
On the lack of liturgical creativity in the Australian churches, I agree. That ritual and liturgy are used in the recognition of national events, I agree there too. Liturgical action, ritual, gives added weight. It can speak beyond words. On the ‘religion’ of Anzac Day, of Anzac as a cult of nationalistic militarism, much has been written and debate continues.

I too received a note in the letterbox. It listed six things I could do ‘to commemorate our servicemen and women from home’. They included standing in the driveway at dawn, baking Anzac biscuits, planting rosemary, and having bacon and eggs for breakfast and calling it ‘gunfire breakfast’. The note was printed and distributed by the local (state) member of parliament.

I have seen and heard of many innovative activities by local churches since social distancing shut church doors (and some unimaginative ones too). The importance of the eucharist in Christian communal life and concerns about transmission of the virus through the bread and wine limit the alternatives. On Palm Sunday and Easter Day many at my local church decorated doors, gates, windows, footpaths. On Easter Day we rang the church bell at 9am as a call to worship and hoisted a ‘happy Easter’ flag. In Holy Week more people logged on to the Stations of the Cross than came to the usual, in the church, service. Perhaps one attraction was a new set of stations, made by members of the congregation. A new piece of liturgy and ritual for many.

Liturgy and ritual are important in communal life. They are most powerful where there is substance to the action. Getting drunk with your mates might be attractive for a while, standing in the dark at the end of the driveway might catch the imagination for a year or so. The eucharist, the communal Christian meal, has been around for over 2000 years. The liturgical innovations in secular society are a reminder and a challenge – how can we be better at showing that Christianity is not over?
Ian Hore-Lacy
April 25, 2020, 4:10PM
Darren Mitchell comments better than I can, and certainly religion is alive and well both on Anzac Day and in football of various kinds.

But would it really be better for the national psyche if everybody just forgot that many of our parents and grandparents laid their lives on the line to secure the liberty and subsequent prosperity we take for granted?

The fact is that wars in the last 110 years loom larger than the Easter events for most Australians. Can those relatively recent sacrifices be made to point to something bigger?
Ian Hore-Lacy
April 25, 2020, 7:26PM
Is this not appropriate?

A Prayer for ANZAC Day:


God of love and liberty,
We bring our thanks today for the peace and security we enjoy,
We remember those who in time of war faithfully served their country.
We pray for their families, and for ourselves whose freedom was won at such a cost.
Make us a people zealous for peace, and hasten that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither learn war any more.
This we pray in the name of the one who gave his life for the sake of the world:
Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

(From A Prayer Book for Australia, page 204)
Margaret Pestorius
April 26, 2020, 8:15AM
Of course there is only been one war fought here: the 100 year long Frontier war.

Every year on Anzac eve in Gimuy we hold an event with the following shape.

Aboriginal people tell the stories of what happened.

Non-sovereign people respond with a lament: a performance of acknowledgement and sorrow.

We then march to a cenotaph of shields, a memorial of real battles in this actual place where my people (German, Irish and British-Scottish) actually did kill Aboriginal people to assist the British to steal their land.

This year we held the event online. Wagepeaceau on Facebook. Or

#lestweforget #frontierwars

Without truth and context ANZAC has become questionable: objectionable use of at john's gospel at its heart. Use of Christian symbols to present a false narrative. In order to pacify a group of people who were tricked into losing their lovely young men to British Greed.

Ngadyu ngudju Bina Bambiji
We will remember them
The old people who fought to protect their people.

We propose people to people ceremonies to acknowledge the true history wherever you are. Your people with the people of the Land. They have survived. But their hearts are heavy.

#lestweforget #frontierwars

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