I was in primary school when Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. I remember tuning in for all the Apollo missions on TV and the radio. Like all young people from that era, I had eagerly collected all the space paraphernalia from the cereal packs, the newspapers, the local toy shops.
Many of you know that back then I did not know the Gospel of Jesus as I did not grow up in any Church. Only recently have I learned of the extraordinary Christian witness of many of the Apollo astronauts. I missed the significance of it back then. In this era of the 50th Anniversary of the Lunar landing, the people of the worlf have been reminded of many of those stories of Christian witness.
For example, when the astronauts of Apollo 8 had circled the moon and were headed back to earth, the three: Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman took turns to recite the creation story from Genesis chapter 1. At the time, this was the most watched television broadcast in human history. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. 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 the light and it was good.” They read through the whole chapter. Their reading had a profound impact on the people who listened.
Then on the moon on July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin (the second person on the moon) who was a Presbyterian Elder, actually took a mini holy communion kit in the personal items allowed him. On the moon he said, “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.” Aldrin then silently recited the words of our Lord Jesus from John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit for you can do nothing without me.” and he proceeded to conduct a Holy Communion service for himself – on the moon, although it was not broadcast back to earth (NASA did not give permission for his little service to broadcast).
This is all framed by the famous 1962 speech by then President John F Kennedy, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do those other things not because they are easy but because they are hard…” Kennedy ended the speech by saying, “As we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” President Kennedy was a Roman Catholic.
Our Christian witness is for every place, even the moon. Our Christian witness is the ordinary expression in the ordinary every day setting of the extraordinary gift of grace we have received through our baptism into Christ. I thank God for the Christian witness of these people of the Apollo programme and I pray that their example would be an encouragement for you in the place where you serve.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul writes, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ (1 Thess 5:17)
(As I write this for you, I am in Florida USA, representing our Lutheran Church at the convention of the North American Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I am actually in the city of Tampa, only 200 kilometres from the Kennedy Space Centre – As I watched that lunar landing as a little boy in Far North Queensland, I could not have imagined being here on this anniversary.)