This Saturday, July 20th, marks the 50th anniversary of the first two human beings to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I will spare you my teenage memories from this event, as my family and I watched it on our black and white TV set. I will just say it was a moving and unforgettable experience.
What you may not know is that Buzz Aldrin did something remarkable in the minutes before the two astronauts exited the lunar module to walk on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin was an active member of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. Before, his flight to the moon, he approached his minister, Dean Woodruff, about what he could do to honor the occasion of landing on the moon. They discussed several options and decided on something significant. He would be the first person to take communion on an astronomical body other than earth. Christopher Columbus and other explorers had observed communion when they landed on their "new worlds" and Aldrin wanted to do the same.
He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read this verse from the Gospel of John, "I am the vine, you are the branches. whoever remains in me and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me," (John 15:5) and he then took communion. (See actual photo above of his handwritten note he read from, along with another Bible passage from Psalm 8 that he read on the return home.) Here is Buzz Aldrin's own account of what happened:
"In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare [sic], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements. And of course, it’s interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” (From the book by Buzz Aldrin - "Magnificent Desolation.")
Buzz Aldrin's participation in communion took place on the moon on a Sunday, July 20, 1969. At the same time, his church family at Webster Presbyterian also received communion with bread from the same loaf that Aldrin had taken a portion from and stowed away in his private pouch. To this day, the Webster Church observes what they call the Lunar Communion Celebration each Sunday nearest July 20. This year they will observe the 50th anniversary on July 21st during services.
July 20th is often seen as a celebration of one of man's highest achievements - landing a man on the moon. But, may it also be known for one astronaut's humble spiritual dedication and belief that no matter how great the achievement, Jesus reminded us that "you can do nothing without me."