Lest we forget…God

On Monday around our nation, and across the ditch, Aussies and Kiwis will say these words at dawn and throughout the day in low tones of respect: “Lest we forget”

Personally, my farming family was caught up in World War I and Gallipoli like most other families in Australia. They were not soldiers, but became soldiers by circumstance. It was the time and place that saw men and women serve in what was to be known as ‘The Great War’, the war to end all wars.

But that was not to be.

World War II saw our families brought into battle again. And there has been wars and hostility ever since, like there was ever before. As an army cadet I stood at attention many an ANZAC Day, and one of my treasured possessions is a bugle that has been in our family since the Boer War. I live in the shadow of the sacrifices of many others. We must not forget that. We must not forget them.

So when we say “lest we forget”, we are making a confession as a community together – kind of like a creed for our nation, that we wont forget our family, our friends, our forebears who ‘gave their today for our tomorrow.’ We will remember them.

Whether it be Gallipoli, the Somme, Passchendaele. Or if it’s Tobruk, Kokoda, the bombing of Darwin. Even today if it’s Iraq or Afghanistan, we will remember them, lest we forget.

But I think we miss something as a community if we leave it there. Certainly that wasn’t the intention of the poet who first penned those words.

It’s no secret that Rudyard Kipling included that phrase ‘lest we forget’ as words in a poem he wrote, as a prayer for people not to ultimately forget God. His words seem inspired by Deuteronomy 6:12, ‘…then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’

The reality is, I will not forget the sacrifice of my great-grandfathers, how could we? Every country town and regional city like Bendigo has a cenotaph, a monument of memory. And ANZAC Day in Australia has become a ‘sacred day’ of remembrance. The greater problem of forgetfulness that Kipling identified, and I see it in me, is that I can too easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for all time. For Christ gave His today for all our tomorrows and forever. May we not forget, but find peace with God in Him through faith in Christ.

In his day, Kipling wrote about the fate of a powerful people like the British Empire (or us today) who might forget about God. Now we might not like it, but those words we say on ANZAC Day have an important context that I dare say many of us have forgotten. I don’t say this as a jibe, or even as a critique of our culture, maybe it’s more like I’m trying to hear Kipling say his poem to me first-and-foremost. Why? Because I can forget, that’s what humans do. And hey, that’s why we need to keep hearing those words anyway isn’t, that’s why we say them. Lest we forget.

‘Recessional’, by Rudyard Kipling

‘God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Amen.’