On Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts; Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, did a live television broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and Moon seen from Apollo 8. Lovell said, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis, including the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light… and God saw that it was good.” Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.’”
And ~ almost exactly 50 years later, on July 20, 1969, on the Apollo 11 moon mission, Buzz Aldrin received communion in the spacecraft that had landed on the lunar surface, and shortly before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. The elements had been consecrated by Aldrin’s pastor at Webster Presbyterian church in Houston, Texas.
Aldrin spoke to the ground crew and his words were broadcast to the world, “I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”
Without it being broadcast to the world, much of which he knew was not Christian, Aldrin took the wine and bread he had brought with him to space with the knowledge of NASA. He recited scripture from John 15:5. Thus, the first foods ever eaten or poured on the moon was the Christian sacrament of communion.
Aldrin later recounted in his memoir, “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,” he later wrote.
Lunar Communion Sunday is still celebrated annually at Webster Presbyterian in Houston. However, in his 2010 memoir, he wrote that he’d come to wonder if he’d done the right thing by celebrating a Christian ritual in space. “We had come to space in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists,” he wrote. “But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”
The 50th anniversary of the moon landing is far more than a phantasmagoric orgy of lights, music and film footage. It is also, for many, a deeply spiritual manifestation of ancient scripture. For others, it is a fulfillment of the utterances from children and adults the world over who gaze into a clear night sky and say, “Oh, my God! Look at that!”