I vividly remember sitting as a teenager around the fuzzy black-and-white television picture, watching with my family as the first men walked on the moon. But I didn’t know until today that the astronauts observed the Lord’s Supper there. How did I miss this crucial moment in church history?
Here’s what happened:
Buzz Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. He asked his pastor how to appropriately celebrate God’s goodness on the moon with a spiritually meaningful event. The pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vile of communion wine.
After the Eagle Lunar Lander touched down, Buzz Aldrin sat beside Neil Armstrong, waiting for the moment when they’d exit onto the moon. Aldrin pulled out a small silver chaice and some small communion bread and a notecard with Scripture taken from John 15. (Later the notecard was auctioned off for $180,000. The church still owns the chalice, but keeps it in a safe-deposit box. A replica can be seen in a glass case near the sanctuary).
Shortly after 3:17 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin radioed to earth, saying: “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.”
Aldrin later 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. 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.”