Pardon me, please, if you’re familiar with this terrific story, but I never knew it: Former astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the moon 44 years ago, on July 20.
Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston. According to London’s Daily Mail, a Presbyterian General Assembly gave Aldrin permission to administer communion to himself on the moon, using a small plastic container of wine and some bread.
Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but he did not want to participate. Aldrin, who followed Armstrong out of the lunar module, poured the wine into a chalice, saying later, “It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”
Aldrin wanted to give people on Earth something to think about. He was planning to broadcast his Lord’s Supper, but skittish NASA worried that atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair would sue it for hurting not only the legendary separation of church and state but the definitely real separation of Earth and moon.
Obeying those in NASA authority over him, Aldrin didn’t tell those on Earth what he was doing, but radioed a naked public square message: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever 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 read, but did not broadcast, a bit of the Gospel of John he had written on a card: “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.” On a broadcast on the way back to Earth, though, Aldrin read from Psalm 8: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest Him?”
Too bad the moon, and millions of viewers, lost a wonderful moment. Too bad the U.S. government vetoed what would have made the landing even more meaningful for most citizens, and even later refused to make it public.
Aldrin, now 77, wrote about the lunar communion 40 years ago in his 1973 book, Return to Earth. Guess I wasn’t paying attention: Late in that year I returned to earth in a manner of speaking, leaving the Communist Party and then learning that Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth. So I’m glad belatedly to encounter this story, which is now meaningful to me, and thankful to Religion Clause for picking it up from London.