My earliest memory that I can date with great certainty is of a holiday in Nefyn, North Wales, when I was two and a half. I can date it not because of the weather, or the beach, or any particular event in Wales - or even on earth. But because that week, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.
What I did not know then, or indeed at all until today was the following story - and I'm grateful to JD for the relating it to me.
It seems that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon. Really! Here's the tale. Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion in terms of his faith. His pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine for him to carry up into orbit on the Apollo 11, and then down onto the lunar surface. Buzz Aldrin carefully took these elements, these remembering symbols, these tokens of life and death, of forgiveness and eternity with him as he travelled further than any man had travelled before.
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, silently, 250,000 miles from home, quoting John 15.5 in the Sea of Tranquility, he took communion.
Here is his 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, 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.”
Now I gaze up into the sky at a place beyond reach and know that man has touched it, and God has touched man upon it. How wonderful.