I have a really neat Holy Communion story for you.
The date was July 20, 1969. We just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past July. The event was, of course, the landing of man on the moon.
The more famous of the two astronauts was Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. His words will live forever in human history. “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
But the second astronaut on that mission was Buzz Aldrin. He, too, walked on the moon and shares the fame and accomplishment of the Apollo 11 mission.
Astronaut Aldrin, in reporting all the historic events of the mission, also reported something quite meaningful to all of us Christians. After he and Armstrong completed their first assignments on the surface of the moon, they returned to the lunar module.
Aldrin, a Presbyterian Elder, did something quite wonderful. He wrote about it later.
“So, during those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements (a wafer of bread and a small container of wine, which by later accounts had been “consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ” by his pastor) along with the three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: ‘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.’
“I poured a thimbleful of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: ‘I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever 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.’
“I silently read the Bible passage as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.”
Isn’t that wonderful! Sure, it’s not the “perfect and exact way” most pastors, priests, and theologians would conduct a full service of Holy Communion. Not all the words were said that we always say, those words of Christ at his Last Supper. “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.”
But certainly those words were a part of his pastor’s “consecrating the elements” before the mission, and certainly Aldrin had those words deep in his heart of faith as he took his Holy Communion there on the surface of the moon, and shared his faith back to earth.
Now, some might question: Should he have done that? After all, not everyone in the United States was Christian. Certainly not everyone in the world was Christian, and this NASA mission was actually undertaken on behalf of “all mankind.”
But the point is that Aldrin was a Christian. He was a disciple of Christ and was living out his faith even in this most public event. What a great example to follow for all of us Christians. We all need to look for opportunities to live out and witness to the faith we hold.
But I want to say one more thing about the sensational location of this particular celebration of Holy Communion on the surface of the moon. And that is that the most important thing about Holy Communion is not where we are, whether in our local churches, or at a beautiful outdoor chapel at church camp, or in a cathedral, or even in such a stunning place as the surface of the moon, all of which would have special meaning connected to where we take Holy Communion.
No, the most important thing is not where we are. The most important thing is where Christ is. The most important thing is that Christ is truly present in that morsel of bread and in that sip of wine. The most important thing is that Christ gives himself to us in the elements of bread and wine, and in giving himself to us, gives us the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.
Christ’s presence in this bread and wine connects us directly to his cross and resurrection. He died on his cross to forgive us all our sins. And we must have that or we’re lost. He rose again that we too might have eternal life. And we must have that or we’re lost.
Yes, indeed, the most important thing about Holy Communion is that Christ is “alive and well” and fully with us in Holy Communion no matter where we are, even on the surface of the moon.
Today, Sunday, October 6, as this cyber-edition of The Citizen is published, is World Communion Sunday. “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you, and keep you in his grace. Amen”
[Find Justin Kollmeyer at www.princeofpeacefayette.org.]