This week I stood through Steve Askin’s funeral at Wigram Air Base. Literally stood. The 640 seats were all taken (I counted) and I, with hundreds of servicemen and women and many other attenders, soberly shared this occasion of sadness and celebration of a great man, who at 38 died piloting a helicopter in the Port Hills fires that threatened the city.
There was great dignity in the service, led by the military chaplain and Paul Askin, Steve’s father. It was raw and honest. Wails and tears were heard and seen. The horror and tragedy of losing a loved one were not disguised. But neither was the absolute trust in Jesus Christ. Calls from family members to Jesus to help them were expressed. One close family member told how she lay in the paddock by their home on the evening they heard of Steve’s death and in anguish started to sing, “Seek, ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” The Word of God was central. Passage after passage were read and reflected upon. Jesus was honoured. The closeness of natural and church whanau was talked about.
There were wonderful and amusing stories of Steve’s larks as a lad and in the army. He was respected and honoured by the words of his family, the forces and the aviation community.
My dear friend Paul was an inspiration throughout. He spoke movingly, helped family and friends get their words and feeling out, he was welcoming and strong for others whilst in agonies himself. And he finished the service by asking the thousand or more people present the ultimate question, “What next?” He said clearly that the current western worldview that death is the end, there is nothing more or beyond it was a statement of belief for which there is no proof. Then he told how Jesus railed against death itself at the grave of his friend Lazarus, and how there is proof that Jesus himself who experienced the horrors of death himself beat death at the resurrection.
The prayers were touching, the tributes moving, the hymns stirring, the haka powerful. And, Jesus was honoured, the Word of God proclaimed. No-one could be unmoved. The newspapers don’t tell you that.
Please pray for this dear family as the mountain they have to climb is tough. They have each other, they have the Lord. Let them have our prayers and support too.