The Lamb who was slaughtered
Every few years, this happens. Anzac Day falls on a Sunday. And I have a task that I sometimes think is pretty well beyond me—that task is to say a word about Jesus Christ and his resurrection life, whilst remembering those who have died in our nation’s wars.
Let me confess. I turned twenty in 1973; some of you will immediately realise what this means. The young men of my generation were being chosen by ballot to be conscripted into the Armed Forces and fight in an unpopular war in Vietnam.
I have rarely been so relieved than when Gough Whitlam came to power on 2 December 1972 and abolished conscription the very next day.
Those who returned from Vietnam often returned to find people didn’t want to know. They were not honoured for being part of our nation’s wars. There may have been all sorts of reasons, including massive popular opposition to sending troops to Vietnam. Many returning soldiers developed post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of the treatment they received on returning to Australia. They were let down by our society.
During the week, I read of a man none of us will have heard of. A man called Harry Hogan. His story is in Eureka St, an online magazine produced by a members of a Jesuit community—in fact, I stay with this community when I’m in Melbourne. Read it! But for now, listen to Harry Hogan’s story:
Harry was 18, a knockabout bush larrikin ready to give just about anything a try. He joined the Second Machine Gun Battalion on 10 February 1915, trained for four months…and set foot on the beach at Gallipoli on 16 August, a few days after the start of the doomed August offensive that was the Allies’ last throw of the dice before their retreat from the peninsula.
For the next four months Harry Hogan, like so many of his fellow soldiers, had an undistinguished, brutalising time, memories of which would stay with him forever. If, in his happy-go-lucky, thoughtless way, he had imagined performing daring, perhaps dramatic deeds, it took no time at all for such notions to founder amid the chaos, the blood, the wounds, the deaths.
Never shirking but always scared stiff, Harry staggered through the months until serious head wounds were added to his more or less constant and worsening state of shock, and he was taken to hospital in Alexandria on 23 December…
Harry recovered after treatment but, still not 19 years of age, he had seen gruesome sights, experienced indescribable horrors and confronted his own crippling fears. He was scarred beyond any treatment that the hospital in Alexandria could give him or even knew about. And this was only the beginning.
The story then describes how Harry went to the trenches of France, ‘succumbing periodically to agonising bouts of trench fever and the maddening itch of scabies’.
It details the personality changes that afflicted Harry—how he ‘began to figure on charge sheets for various offences—drunkenness, refusing to obey an order from an MP, absence without a pass while under treatment, AWOL for a month and picked up by MPs in London’.
Finally, he was shipped back to Australia in 1919. The story continues:
Once he was as fit as he was ever going to be, Harry Hogan—a raddled, stooped and haunted looking 23-year old—went bush and stayed there. He worked as a jackeroo and a fencer and, though he eventually married, he would disappear into the backblocks for months on end, returning broke, hung over and impenitent.
Lives like Harry’s are the lives we remember when we say ‘Lest we forget’. And when we say—as we should, in hope—Never again.
In a world like this, how can we say, ‘Christ is risen!’? Is he risen to change the world? Or is he risen to rescue us from it, and damn the rest?
The Book of Revelation gives us a clue. It helps us to say, ‘Christ is risen indeed!’ in a world in which wars still blight lives.
Let’s look at the scene in chapter 7 of Revelation.
John has a vision of heaven. Note: it’s a vision, told to us in terms we can understand. It’s not the reality of heaven itself.
In John’s vision, thousands upon thousands of people are there, ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’. They have gone through hardship and now they are clothed in garments that spoke of victory: a white robe, and holding palm leaves in their hands. They cry out,
Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
We’re so used to this that we don’t bat an eyelid. We sing a song to these words, and it’s very familiar. But let’s think about it for a while.
There are people from every part of the world. Some of them will once have been at war, and now they are united in praise. But we know that.
Arrayed in victory clothes, they say, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne’. That’s fair enough. If there’s a victory, there’s a leader. And if there is a victory against the powers of evil in the world, God is the victor. They have been saved—rescued, healed, delivered, made safe—and so they praise God. We know that too.
But notice this: salvation doesn’t only belong to God on the throne. It also comes from Another.
This Other One who has brought salvation is briefly described in chapter 5 of Revelation as a lion, ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah…[who] has conquered’.
That’s ok too. If someone other than God brings salvation and victory to the people of God, let him be called a lion.
But when John turns to look at the lion he doesn’t see a lion. He sees the Lamb.
Who is this lion who is a lamb? We’ve guessed who it is, if we didn’t already know. It’s Jesus. But John has seen a very strange Lamb indeed. It’s not a cute woolly thing, dancing around the paddock. No, it’s ‘a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered’. Have you been to an abattoir and seen a lamb that’s just been slaughtered? I haven’t either. And I don’t much want to.
But wait, there’s more. Look at verse 17:
…the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd.
So when John expects to see a conquering lion, he sees a lamb. A lamb standing, though it had been slaughtered. And now that Lamb is at the centre of God’s throne. And the Lamb is also the shepherd.
This lamb’s death is at the very centre of God’s purposes. In fact, this Lamb occupies the place of God and receives the honour due to God. This is because the death of this Lamb has won the victory.
Let’s not go too quickly from here to Anzac Day. The sacrifice of the Lamb wins the victory; is that how we win victory? What about the sacrifice of so many in war?
Let me put it this way: World War One was called ‘the war to end all wars’. In a similar way, the sacrifice of Jesus is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
Jesus pays the price of death so we don’t have to. It’s as simple as that. The only sacrifice we owe is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done.
Yet so many have been sacrificed in war. Was it a worthless sacrifice? Harry Hogan didn’t die in the war, but he made a huge sacrifice that marked his life and the lives of others. Was his sacrifice worthless?
Friends, God is in the business of bringing good out of evil. God has brought eternal life out of the evil of the cross, and God can bring good things out of the evils of war.
On Anzac day, we commemorate those who have fought in the nation’s wars, from France and North Africa to the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam, and more lately in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. In particular, we commemorate men like Lance-Corporal Mason Edwards, on this first Anzac Day since his death last year.
But of course, the Anzac story had a beginning. It started at Gallipoli, and it honours a defeat. Out of that defeat has come that other story: a story of courage and of mateship and a fair go.
But lest we forget, let’s always remember: the sacrifice of Jesus was a sacrifice to end all sacrifice. I want to suggest that the fact that young men and young women are called upon to sacrifice themselves should have two consequences:
One: we should honour them and what they have done. We should not forget them.
Two: we should work tirelessly for peace, so that others do not have to make this sacrifice. It’s not a Lion at the centre of God’s throne, and at the centre of God’s purposes. It is the Lamb. And this Lamb is now a shepherd, who
will guide them to springs
of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear
from their eyes.
I’d never heard of Harry Hogan before this week, but I would like to honour him and Mason and all Anzacs. But I want to remember that Harry Hogan was only eighteen when he enlisted. I don’t want other young men and young women to go to war as he did. I don’t want their families to grieve, as people we love have grieved.
Salvation belongs to the Lamb who was put to death and who lives forevermore to bring peace and to wipe away the tears from our eyes.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honour
and glory and blessing. Amen.