Easter Sunday Sunrise Service

You Don't have to Stay Dead - Sunday 31st March, 1997

There is a vast difference between feelings on Good Friday and those on Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, Wesley Mission marched through the streets of Sydney. Leading the march 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, bearing 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 slowly, mournfully heading towards the tomb. Good Friday is, in a sense, the symbol of the hopelessness and despair that leads to death.

1. FOR MANY PEOPLE ARE SIMPLY THE LIVING DEAD. The sad thing about this week's vote in Parliament about a national law on euthanasia, is that in the Northern Territory and in other parts of Australia there are people who are just 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.

They feel trapped in disease or disability, physical frailty or mental illness and are convinced they cannot take part fully in life.

They feel they will never be any different. They feel hopeless. They too look at what they lack and despair of life itself. They are the living dead.

Recently, I led a simple ceremony for hundreds of people on the steps of this Opera House. We were talking about people who have suicided in the past year. We remembered the 2360 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 themselves; most with their fathers' guns.

Nearly 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 was poignant. Moving. Sad. Yet it represented the hopeless despair of people who see the only answer in death.

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 to 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, one film received more Oscars than any other, "The English Patient". It is a compelling drama beautifully photographed, which won an Oscar for its Australian cinematographer John Seale. It is a parable about our world without God. It is a film that represents the attitudes of those living dead in our own society. It is about the feelings of people who are trapped into 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 selfproclaimed 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 FrenchCanadian nurse, Hana is convinced that everyone she loves dies. Wanting to escape from the deathridden 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 mapmaking 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 "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 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. In a moment I will be back to tell you about the difference that makes!

2. BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO STAY DEAD! 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 which portrayed the despair of the living dead. But Easter Sunday, the same students from Wesley Institute sing the message of Christ risen from the dead. 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 film "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 has prodigious Godgiven talent and inspite of a disabling emotional handicap overcomes. 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. In the "Sydney Morning Herald" on Feb 20th this year a young man from Wahroonga wrote: "Having experienced the suicide of a classmate during my HSC last year, I was left searching for reasons behind his actions. There is an absence of optimism in Australia's youth. The high youth suicide rate is not an indication that our youth need more education or imposed direction but rather positive reinforcement and acceptance. Absence of hope is the pervading factor in all youth suicides. However, our society offers only "conditional" hope to its youth, conditional on HSC success and building a career. Isn't it time that society offered unconditional hope to protect its greatest asset?"

It was signed Daniel Simmons.

Daniel, you are exactly right. 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!

One of the most powerful images of this year was that of Tony Bullimore alive in his upturned yacht in the ocean 1,300 miles south west of Perth. He was a alive, but not for much longer. He was entombed inside his own grave. But Tony Bullimore was rescued and brought to safety in an amazing search and rescue operations undertaken by the Royal Australian Air Force and Navy. His is the story of humanity. Slowing dying in his tomb of death. But a hand came alongside him to pluck him to safety and to life.

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 don't have to stay dead! reach out to life.
Speak to one of our counsellors now on 02 9263 5555.

Gordon Moyes

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