This year the Fourth Sunday of Easter coincides with Anzac Day and Vocations Sunday. While this might on first thought seem to be an unhelpful clutter of important days perhaps the three work well together, each helping us to appreciate and celebrate the other.
Our annual celebration of Anzac Day is in the mind of the people our national sacred day, more so than the Christian feasts of Christmas and Easter which are marked primarily as secular holidays, and more sacred than Waitangi Day which emphasizes our cultural heritage and potential.
Every year brings more people to Anzac Commemorations in which solemn unchanging ritual and dignified silence help us to give thanks for those who made ultimate sacrifices in the name of freedom, some as members of military institutions and many others as civilians.
Prince Philip served in the military and remained a patron and supporter of those who continue to work for freedom in these armed forces. It is significant that his full military funeral was celebrated in the broader context that is our Christian focus of these Easter weeks.
Over the days since the Duke’s death, media have emphasised his life as one lived in service of something greater, his setting aside his own preferences to take second place to his wife the queen. In our context we name this commitment to service of something greater Vocation.
Every reading, reflection and hymn of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral service was focused not on his long and honourable military service, but (in the words that began his service)
"to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh… and that, with our brother Philip, at the last, we shall know the joys of life eternal."
This is the heart of our celebration of this Fourth Sunday of Easter. This focus reminds us of the meaning of Christian Vocation.
While the common contemporary mentality might emphasise the right of each individual to do what they want whenever they choose, on Anzac Day we remember so many who made the decision to serve others rather than retreating into their own preferences.
Such choice is possible when we understand the heart of the Christian message which concludes today’s gospel:
“So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’”
Today we use the Collect of the Fourth Sunday of Easter emphasising 'the brave shepherd who has gone before… leading us to a share in the joys of heaven.'
You may find it appropriate to use the Collect for Anzac Day (when it does not coincide with Sunday) in a homily or as a conclusion to the Prayers of Intercession.
ALMIGHTY everlasting God, who sent your Son to die that we might live, grant, we pray, eternal rest to those who gave themselves in service and sacrifice for their country. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Images used in this page are from the windows in the Chapelle de L'Ossuaire de Douaumont, France.