On 20th July 1969 the world watched something extraordinary. This was when the Eagle lunar module landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. This was the very first time that anyone had been to the moon. But astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to do something hard. After years of preparation and their long and hazardous flight they had to wait. They were about to open the door of their lunar lander and step onto the unknown surface of a completely different world. But for now, their mission ordered them to take a pause, to wait and prepare for that ‘First step’. That hour-long downtime period was designed to let the astronauts recover from their space flight and prepare for their moon walk.
It is now well known that Buzz Aldrin spent his time praying, reading the Bible and taking Holy Communion. Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church, and before he headed into space in 1969, he got special permission to take bread and wine with him into space and to give himself communion. As the men prepared for the next phase of their mission, Aldrin spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said. “I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in their own individual way.”
He then reached for the wine and bread he’d brought to space—the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon. “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. The words he read were those of Jesus: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in you, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.’
After the resurrection, as Jesus ascended back to heaven, he gave a promise to his disciples that he would be with them always, wherever they were and wherever they went. As Buzz Aldrin took communion on the Moon he too was aware of that promise. It is a promise that is also true for us today and so whatever each day may bring let us remember to ‘wait’ before we step out into the day and ask that Jesus may indeed be with us. As we say in Communion:
‘The Lord is here.’ ‘His Spirit is with us.’
With warm greetings,
The Right Revd Peter Hancock
Bishop of Bath and Wells