Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First Communion on the Moon

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the first men to walk on the Moon today, I want to share this account of the second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin. Perhaps as profound as the event itself, Aldrin brought along with him some wine and communion hosts and the very first meal ever consumed on the Moon was in fact a kind of communion meal. This is Aldrin's account of the event:

"This is the (lunar module) pilot," Aldrin said on July 20, 1969. "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."

Aldrin's way was to serve himself communion, using a kit provided by the pastor of Houston's Webster Presbyterian Church.

Aldrin's brief and private Christian service never caused a flap, but it could have. Aldrin has said that he planned to broadcast the service, but NASA at the last minute asked him not to because of concerns about a lawsuit filed (later dismissed) by atheist Madelyn Murray O'Hare after Apollo 8 astronauts read from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas.

"In the radio blackout," Aldrin wrote in Guideposts magazine in 1970, "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.'

"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."

The small chalice Aldrin used for the wine went back to Webster Church. Each year on the Sunday closest to July 20, the congregation celebrates Lunar Communion. "Communion can be celebrated anywhere," senior pastor Mark Cooper said Sunday. "Even cramped up in a lunar module on the moon."

Aldrin wasn't the only person to bring his faith to the moon that day. The astronauts left behind a tiny silicon chip containing a message of peace from four U.S. presidents and 73 other world leaders. Seven of them made references to God -- the presidents of Brazil, Ireland, South Vietnam and Malagasy, the king of Belgium, Pope Paul VI -- and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, who wrote:

"On this occasion when Mr. Neil Armstrong and Colonel Edwin Aldrin set foot for the first time on the surface of the Moon from the Earth, we pray the Almighty God to guide mankind towards ever increasing success in the establishment of peace and the progress of culture, knowledge and human civilisation."

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