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Fifty years ago, two men walked on the moon.  The year was 1969 and we were a nation at war, a nation in great transition. The average annual income was $8,550.00. The average monthly rent was $135.00 and the average cost of a new house was $15,550.00.  The average cost of a new car was $3,270.00, and the gas to fill the tank was only 35 cents per gallon.  The inflation rate was an annual 5.46%.  A very popular saying (from a cigarette ad) was, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”  

1969 was also the year of the New York Jet’s Super Bowl victory and the Miracle Mets’ championship season.  In politics, Richard Nixon’s inauguration took place in January and a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam began soon after.  Tragedies filled the news with reports of the Chappaquiddick incident, the Manson Family murders, and the Zodiac Killer murders.  The peace, hippie, and free love movements were growing fast.  The culture was changing and festivals like the Woodstock Music Festival made many aware of the moral, ethical, and spiritual decline in our county.

To the Moon and Back

On July 20, 1969, the first manned lunar spacecraft, Apollo 11, set down on the surface of the moon.  Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface and was joined 20 minutes later by his fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. It was a televised event that Americans, and people around the world, watched and celebrated.

As Armstrong stood on the moon’s surface, he spoke these immortal words:  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”   Those words are memorable and they have lived on for fifty years and counting.  But there’s another event that took place on the moon’s surface that day. And it’s an event that is seldom spoken of, or written about — and sadly it is fading into the dark recesses of history.  

As mentioned, Astronaut Neil Armstrong was first to step onto the lunar surface and Astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined him 20 minutes later.  What was Aldrin doing during those 20 minutes?  The answer might surprise you.

The Rest of the Story

Prior to the moon mission, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin decided to mark his participation in this momentous event in a special way.  Aldrin, an elder at  Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston Texas, chose the most significant and symbolic of church sacraments to acknowledge the grace of God in the success of the moon landing. He brought onboard the spacecraft a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine (both consecrated by his minister), and a small silver chalice.  After the lunar module set down on the moon’s surface, Aldrin proceded to take Holy Communion, and radioed this public statement to the people on earth:

“Houston, this is the Eagle.  This is the LM pilot speaking.  I would like to request a few moments of silence.  I would like to invite each person listening in, whoever or whatever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

In his account of that day, Aldrin wrote:

“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 [1968]. 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.

“I Love You to the Moon and Back”

That’s a popular saying in our time. It’s used to express how much one person loves another.  Simply put, “I Love You to the Moon and Back” means, “I really, really, really love you a lot.”   Many people say it, but Buzz Aldrin is the only person alive who can literally make that statement as a true fact (Neil Armstrong died in 2012).  Aldrin did go to the moon and back and by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, he expressed his love for God on the moon.   “To the moon” is a long-distance, far from the earth, and much closer to the heavenly home of our Lord and Saviour.  There on the moon, Aldrin remembered the greatest example of love for all mankind.  

 “…Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me …This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”(1 Cor 11:24-25)

In sending Jesus to live, die, be buried, and rise again in glory for our salvation, we could say that God loved us “To the Earth and Back” or, simply put, “God really, really, really loves us a lot.”

Remembering 1969

Looking back fifty years, we see the beginning of a growing trend. Just as Aldrin was silenced when he was asked not to read the Communion prayer, Christians today are being silenced more than ever.  Prayer and professions of Christian faith are being silenced and even prohibited.  In this 50th year since the momentous event of man landing on the moon, I suggest that equally important was the expression of remembrance of Jesus’ gift to all mankind. However, I venture to say that very few know of it and it is quickly fading from history.

An Opportunity to Talk About Jesus

Just as the nation was in great transition in 1969, we too are at a crossroads.  The next time you hear “to the moon and back” be ready to tell about the event that took place on the lunar surface that day.  Tell about Aldren who actually went ”to the moon and back.” Tell how, before he stepped out onto the moon’s surface, he thanked God for His love for the world and for Jesus’ death on the cross to give us eternal life. In God’s eyes, those 20 minutes were the most significant minutes of the whole journey.

It’s important that we listen for opportunities to talk about Jesus.  Everyday events and common sayings can often open a door to turn a conversation to one of spiritual importance. (For more ways to do this, read Who Said That? Common Everyday Sayings)

May we always be motivated to be bold in our witness.  And may we be willing and ready to proclaim the Bread that represents the Lord’s broken body, the Blood that washes away our sins, and the Love of God… “to the moon and back.”

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