BIBLE READING:††† John 20: 1-18
What kind of world do we live in? By all accounts we are a disillusioned, hopeless generation. Marriage breakdown, suicide, mental illness are signs that our grip on reality is pretty shaky.
The environment through years of abuse and indifference, exploitation and pollution has been wrecked. An insane desire for power and material wealth has created famines in Africa, virtual slave labour in South East Asia and Central America, while wars break out through the world. What hope have our children got? In a world gone mad - full of greed and lust, apathy and violence, what can we offer them?
I want to tell you a story about a girl named Gail. I first met her 35 years ago on a camp. At that time she was around 14 years old. She had by that time been expelled from school and had been convicted in a childrenís Court for physically attacking and wounding a teacher. She was angry and fed up with her life.
And she had good cause - she had been sexually abused by her father since she was an infant; her mother would not listen to her frightened cries for help. Her twin brother sold her sexual favours to support his drug habit. All that before she went through puberty! She learned that the only way she could get back at the men who had abused her was through violence - and she gained a reputation as a fighter who didnít stop once her victim hit the dirt. She had a major drug habit, and numerous health problems.
Gail hated herself - in fact she had, by the age of 14, attempted to commit suicide a couple of times. I didnít find all this out when I first met her. In dribs and drabs over the years she told me things that made my heart break. I loved her very much, she was to me like a niece - and she called me her Uncle.
I guess I was the first bloke in her life that loved her for who she was. Gail did not know much about love Ė and even the idea of a Father in heaven who loved her, disturbed her and made her uncomfortable. Yet over the years I knew her, she came to know the God of love - who loves even the most unlovely and hurt of people. But knowing God loved her and feeling secure in that love didn't make it any easier for Gail to express love and care.
In over 30 years of knowing and loving Gail I am proud to tell you that she has allowed me to hug her 6 times! And I still wonder at the time she hugged me! It is with sadness that I share with you that when a friend left to travel overseas, she again attempted suicide Ė using a kitchen knife to carve this personís name on her arm and wrist. Gail married a man who abused her and their children. Fortunately her church supported her through the violence and stalking. Several years ago, she died from what I am told were health issues to do with her drug use as a young person.
Gailís story is full of hurt and suffering, yet the last time I saw her she expressed hope for her life and the future of her children - for Jesus had given her hope.
Gail is like Mary Magdalene - a woman who had experienced both physical and mental illness, and it was rumoured, had been a prostitute - but Jesus loved her. Under his care she found healing and grew to love him. When he died - her heart broke, for he had given her more than health, he had given her hope for a future that was full of infinite possibilities and potential. As Jesus was put to death, so were her dreams of wholeness and new life.
Yet the death of Jesus was not the end of the story. Mary, heartbroken and full of grief meets Jesus. She was the first person to see him after he had risen from the grave, and to know a new and vital hope.
When Jesus rose from the grave - he didnít come back as a zombie. He wasnít one of the living dead. As he broke out of his tomb he broke the power of the rotten things in this life that hold us back. He broke the back of despair and gave us hope - hope that things can now be better than they are. Hope that the things from our past that we are ashamed of donít matter any more. Hope that there is a future worth striving for.
Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene, thousands of years ago, and gave her new hope.
Jesus spoke to Gail, and changed her life - he built up her hope for something better for her life and for the lives of her children.
Jesus wants to call you by your name and offer you hope. He wants to call you by your name because he loves you and wants to give you the power that is his to turn the defeats of your life into victories; your griefs to joy.
Because Jesus has conquered death - he brings us the hope that even for the worst of people, things can be better.
When Jesus calls you by your name, may you recognise his gentle voice and know new life and hope and joy. Amen.