July 20 commemorates the day in 1969 that astronaut Buzz Aldrin served communion on the moon. This year, Webster Presbyterian in Texas—where Aldrin served as an elder –will celebrate the historic event on Sunday, July 22, by presenting the chalice that Aldrin brought back to Earth with him. After all, it was that church’s minister who consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine in preparation for Aldrin’s trip to the moon. The sacred lunar ceremony was kept secret by the U.S. government until years later when Aldrin shared his story.
Aldrin’s proposal originally had been rejected when he told NASA flight operations coordinator Deke Slayton of his idea to celebrate communion during the live broadcast from the moon. According to Aldrin’s memoir “Magnificent Desolation,” Slayton told him, “No, that’s not a good idea, Buzz. Go ahead and have communion but keep your comments more general.”
That was because just a few months previous, in what was the most watched television broadcast in the world, the Apollo 8 astronauts had read the first ten verses of Genesis while orbiting the moon. “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…”
Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued, and even though the Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, the legal battles she won taking prayer and Bible reading out of school created enough of a stir that NASA wanted to avoid any further problems. Aldrin would resort to Plan B.
Once he and Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Module, Armstrong summed up the enormity of the occasion when he stepped onto the moon’s surface and spoke the often-quoted phrase, “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin then radioed this message to NASA: “This is the LM (Lunar Module) 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.”
To comply with Mission Control, Aldrin then ended radio communication, and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion. According to journalist Matthew Cresswell inThe Guardian, this is Aldrin’s 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. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements. “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.’”
They were Jesus’ words and coming from Someone who had created the moon, He should know.