Essay / Culture

Communion on the Moon Day!

Today (July 20) is the anniversary of the communion service on the moon, in 1969.

Buzz Aldrin, an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Webster, Texas, had planned ahead for it, obviously, or he wouldn’t have had the elements of bread and wine with him in the lunar module. Beyond that, though, Presbyterian theology recognizes that taking communion all by yourself is a pretty weird thing to do (lunar or otherwise). So Aldrin and his pastor had worked things out in advance: The lunar landing was on a Sunday, and Aldrin’s home church celebrated their earthling communion service in a way that recognized one of their church members was way off in space, communing along with them.

Aldrin had intended to broadcast the service, which included him reading appropriate passages of Scripture (John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches” and Psalm 8:3-4, “When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers…”), but ended up doing the service during a period of radio silence. Writing later in Guideposts magazine, he reported:

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.’ I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Deke Slayton 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…Eagle’s metal body creaked. 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’ve been pondering for a while whether there is anything especially theologically significant about communion on the moon. I haven’t come up with anything. Except that it’s cool.

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