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MARK 5:1-20. Luke 24:1-7

Easter Sunday - 31st March 2002

I have always been impressed by Jesus counselling a psychotic man who rushed upon Him when Jesus visited the area of the Gadarenes. Jesus had just landed with His disciples following a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee. In the eerie light of the stormy sky, Jesus is suddenly confronting by a wild, shouting, naked man, who ran at Him from out of the tombs. His body was cut with gashes from sharp stones where the man had lacerated his own body. From His wrists were pieces of broken chain where people had tried to restrain him.

Jesus spoke quietly to this man, asked his name, and healed him of his mental affliction. By the time the towns people had rushed out, Mark 5:15 "when they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid." They were afraid because people are always afraid of people who live among the tombs, whether from mental illness or any other reason. After a while Jesus went to leave and v18 "as Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed."

The image of a man living among the dead has always stayed with me, because I meet people like him frequently, people who are living among the dead.

On Good Friday, Wesley Mission processed through the streets of Sydney. Leading us were actors from the Wesley Institute portraying the disciples of Jesus, the Roman guards, the grieving women all of whom were escorting a beaten and bloodied Jesus. He bore a huge, heavy Cross on the way to Calvary. The muffled drums were giving a powerful beat and the soul searching dirge of the sorrowful procession was a symbol of mankind without God. The crowds in the streets stood in silence as they watched one man, bearing His cross, head towards death and the tomb. It was a symbol of what is happening to our world without God. All of us are mournfully heading towards the tomb. Good Friday is, in a sense, the symbol of the hopelessness and despair that leads to death.


Two weeks ago, the Rev Fred Nile, led the debate in our Legislative Council which defeated a Bill to establish a law on euthanasia. In Queensland, Mrs Nancy Crick, in the last stages of bowel cancer became the public face of a campaign to force assisted suicide upon our law books. She invited people to assist her die. "It is my life, my choice", she said. There are people who are wanting to die. For them, sickness, disease, despair, hopelessness have won. They can see no further than the chimney of the crematorium. They want to die. They think death somehow is an answer to their pain. They are the living dead, living among the dead. They feel hopeless. They too look at what they lack and despair of life itself. They are the living dead, living among the dead.

Every year, I lead a simple ceremony for hundreds of people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. We talk about people who have suicided in the past year. We remember the 2860 fine Australians, most of them young and healthy, who carried so much pain within them that they gave up on society and the rest of us. Far more people than are killed on the roads each year, kill them selves; mostly with their fathers' guns. Five hundred teenagers and young adults killed themselves last year. We remembered them in tears. We prayed and then cast hundreds of bright sunflowers into the water, a carpet of bright yellow flowers, each one with a face turned to the sun, floating out to sea. It is poignant. Moving. Sad. It represents the hopeless despair of people who see the only answer in death.

Like the women who came to the tomb of Jesus to anoint His body, we are living among the dead. We are constantly trying to roll back the stone. Their only dilemma, according to Mark, was how they would get that huge stone rolled back. You know what it is like to push against a huge stone. Maybe you have pushed against a boss who wont be satisfied or against a department that just does not understand, or against a marriage that is heading for a split, or "you are pushing against a disease, depression, loneliness, or some obstacle that is between you and your dreams. We think that if we can just get this burdensome thing rolled back, we'll be fine. But, even if we get rid of the huge stone, all that is waiting on the other side is death." M.Craig Barnes Our world without God, is like the world on the first Good Friday.

The disciples had hearts that were downcast and despairing. They had seen Jesus, the finest life ever lived, taken by cruel men and nailed to a Cross. It seemed that goodness and joy had been nailed down by the powers of evil, pain and death. They felt no future. They despaired of life itself. As the stone was rolled against the tomb and the seal and guard set, they turned away into the darkness to hide out of fear that they too would be next. Good Friday is the day of the living dead.

Last week there was screened on free to air television, the 1997 Oscar winner, THE ENGLISH PATIENT. It is beautifully photographed, which won an Oscar for its Australian cinematographer John Seale. It is a parable of our world without God. It is a film that represents the attitudes of those living among the dead in our own society. It is about the feelings of people who are trapped in the Good Friday syndrome. It portrays the living dead. THE ENGLISH PATIENT is full of the symbols of death and godlessness. It is about living with a humanistic ideology. If you have no God and no hope then what is left is seen in this film. There is no moral code. People commit extramarital affairs, indulge in premarital sex, live without God, find the violence of war, death, suicide, and euthanasia. The English Patient himself is a self-proclaimed atheist who declares "There is no God". Hence he lives immorally and without hope. Even the haunting images of the desert in Tunisia and the ruins of war-torn Italy during World War 11 speak of death. The young French-Canadian nurse, Hana is convinced that everyone she loves dies.

Wanting to escape from the death-ridden life, she yearns to care for her critically burned patient and takes him into the rubble of a Tuscany monastery. He is really the living dead, on his way to the tomb. Ironically they are confined to a ruined monastery, as if the religious world without a God is impotent and unable to help. Through the patient's continuous flashbacks we learn of a map-making expedition in North Africa that had the hopes of true love. But they were blighted by sin, suffering, disaster, disability, despair and finally death.

Without God there is nothing but death. The film is an exploration of the world without God and without hope. It is the world of Good Friday that does not know the Resurrection is coming! It is the story of people who do not know the difference made by a living Christ. It is an accurate picture of our world when we live without God. As Paul said 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."


But that is not the end of the story! Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday and the resurrection. I say solemnly: don't get caught dead without Jesus! This is the good news that Easter brings! There is a huge difference between the feelings of Good Friday and those of Easter Sunday. Last Good Friday, Wesley Mission conducted a street march that portrayed the despair of the living dead. But Easter Sunday, the same students from Wesley Institute sing the message of Christ risen!

As Paul continued 1 Cor 15:20 "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first of those who have died in faith." Easter Sunday is a story of hope and life. If THE ENGLISH PATIENT represents the people who are the living dead, then the Australian film SHINE represents the Easter people who find the hope and power to overcome disability, discouragement and death. It tells the inspiring story of pianist David Helfgott played by Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, who won an Oscar for his presentation of how love and security transforms David's life and liberates his talent from the grave. David Helfgott was trapped within mental illness and the walls of psychiatric centres. The film opens with the adult David, the sort of person we avoid on the streets: a strange, confused outcast. He is rain-drenched, unkempt, and muttering crazily. He wanders into a restaurant, lost and alone. One of the living dead. We see the life of David Helfgott in flash-back.

From childhood the boy has extraordinary talent, and a dominating father. David becomes the youngest pianist ever to win a national piano competition, but is not to pursue his musical career outside his family. David finally breaks away from his father and studies music at the Royal College of Music in London. He achieves his dream: performing the difficult Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3.. His performance is brilliant, but it ends in a breakdown. Back in Perth he spends 13 years as one of the living dead in a mental asylum. But the concern of a doctor, a restaurant owner and a Sydney woman help him find hope, security and love to grow literally from death to life, from despair to hope and from incapacity to international acclaim. David Helfgott with prodigious God-given talent overcomes in spite of a disabling emotional handicap.

Today David Helfgott is on an international concert tour. His CD's are the world's top-selling classical music. He is not our best pianist, but one who has found life. His critics point out technical faults, but at the end of every concert audiences stand, moved by a musical experience and a personal story of a man who has overcome through hope and love. Life had triumphed over death.

There is hope for the living dead. Even for those who find no way out except suicide. Absence of hope is the pervasive factor. Youth do need hope that overcomes despair and leads to life. Society offers only "conditional" hope to its youth, its mentally ill, its frail aged, its worried adults, its empty rich, its unsatisfied achievers...all of whom are the living dead. They need the unconditional hope that is found in Easter Sunday! When Christ is risen from the dead, everything becomes different!

It is time that society offered unconditional hope. That is exactly what Christians are offering today. You don't have to stay dead! That is the Easter message to Australia. You don't have to stay dead! Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and through faith in Him you can rise too! The story of Easter is that Christ has come alongside us to liberate us from death. He reaches out to save us from sin and death and the grave. All we must do is believe in Him and reach out to life! Will you do that now? You do not have to stay dead! The Easter message is that God raised Christ from among the dead, and He can give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit that dwells in you! By faith acknowledge Him and discover new life in Christ.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.