Photo: The cenotaph in Lalor Park, former Australian soldier Ben (left) with Nathan Marshall and the dawn service for Anzac Day last year.
Nine years ago, at 5.30am on 25 April, about 40 people gathered on the pavement in front of Common Groundz community café in Lalor Park, Sydney, to hold a ‘community’ Anzac Day dawn service.
A humble event, this was a way our Common Groundz community was able to stand alongside our friend and volunteer, Ben, who had been a captain in the Australian army and had served in places like East Timor, the Solomons and Iraq.
With our makeshift flagpole and cenotaph, we held a space that created room for Ben to share something of his own conflict, his own trauma, his own ‘war’, that was still very present.
Last year, 400 locals stood shoulder to shoulder in Chifley Park, across the road from the café, to share in a truly evolved and communal dawn service. The growth of this event has been, in part, testament to the relationships that we all spent many years building and developing in community.
It was never about growing a large event, rather it was the journey of a few friends who walked with a Digger trying to find his own way home, including his growing and deepening faith in Christ.
Anzac Day marks one of the most botched conflicts in Australia’s history, with 8700 Aussies perishing, including 13 indigenous men. Yet it has garnered something in the psyche of our nation, known as the ‘Anzac spirit’. This spirit was one of egalitarianism, courage, larrikinism and mateship.
Our Lalor Park dawn services were never about idolising conflict. We preached a message of turning “… swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4 NLT). We prayed, read scripture, sang hymns and gave space for Ben to reflect on his own wrestle with what it meant to ‘go’ and ‘come home’. It was a journey of healing and redemption for him but became a journey of redemption for all of us.
The ultimate warrior, Jesus, who preached love for enemies and practised forgiveness to his murderers, helped us not to try and find meaning only in our small story, but be reconciled into the greater story of Christ who was “wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV).
As you are no doubt reading this in COVID-19 isolation, can I encourage you, even if you are a pacifist, or just like me uneasy about glorifying war, to wake early this Anzac Day, find your way to the end of your driveway and, in an act of solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who have paid or are still paying the ultimate price for their service, mark 6am with silence.
It was never lost on me that the most powerful time at the service was always when standing shoulder to shoulder and waiting for the dawn together; our eyes adjusting to ‘first light’ (the most dangerous time for a soldier) – “… more than watchmen wait for the dawn”, our souls, more than ever are ‘waiting’ for the Lord, “for in His word I hope” (Psalm 130 ESV).
By Nathan Marshall