Today marks the 46th anniversary of the day we landed on the moon, and as we look back on that monumental moment, it’s worth remembering the efforts taken by one astronaut to pause and recognize his creator.
Prior to the lift-off of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin spoke with his pastor about finding the “right symbol for the first lunar landing.” After some discussion, they agreed it was a communion service, and the scripture passage he’d use would be John 15:5:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
“We wanted to express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets,” Aldrin wrote. “…I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, symbolizing the thought that God was revealing Himself there too, as man reached out into the universe.”
Indeed, rather than consider the might of man or the glories of humanistic progress, Aldrin chose to pause and behold his God. Rather than ponder the utilitarian use of the mission or relish in pride over what man hath achieved, Aldrin looked back on our planet and recognized that our gifts and knowledge and ability is a blessing from our Creator. In such a moment, the only appropriate response is to glorify God.
Aldrin wrote about the experience in Guideposts:
In the radio blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.
And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ.
I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.
Although the act remains theologically questionable for many, what better way to recognize and honor our mysterious relationship with our Creator than by taking communion? Aldrin’s approach was certainly separate from the liturgical framework of Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, but what better way to behold God’s tangible yet transcendent connection to the world than through what Schmemann describes as “the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth”:
Here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view. Intercession begins here, in the glory of the messianic banquet, and this is the only true beginning for the Church’s mission. It is when, ‘having put aside all earthly care,’ we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.
God calls us to serve others and steward his creation in abounding and mysterious ways. When we stretch the limits of what man has discovered thus far, uncovering new glimpses of the majesty of our Creator and producing good fruit in turn, it’s an especially good time to remember that we are indeed the branches.
For more on how to achieve this balance across our human endeavors, see For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.
HT Andrew Brown