From the Pastor’s Study – July 20, 1969

Hanging on my office wall is a framed copy of the July 21, 1969 edition of the Detroit Free Press. I came across this old yellowed newspaper as I was cleaning out my mother’s house after she died. The bold headline on the paper reads, “Man Walks on Moon!” I knew immediately when I found this that this was a treasure I wanted to keep.

I can remember the night man first walked on the moon. My mother was right when she told me, “You’ll remember this for the rest of your life.” Late in the evening of Sunday, July 20, 1969, when five year-olds are supposed to be sleeping, my mother kept her kindergarten-age boy awake in order that I might witness on television astronaut Neil Armstrong take that “one giant leap for mankind.” I recall dozing off a couple of times only to have my mother repeatedly prod me awake with the assurance that I did not want to miss this.

From the hindsight of fifty years, Armstrong’s climb down the ladder of the lunar module (the “LEM”) to step on the moon’s surface is still the marvel of the age. To think that my grandfather was born in 1900, three years before Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew their Wright Flier at Kitty Hawk on North Carolina’s outer banks. Yet, before he died in 1977, six Apollo moon landings took place, and twelve different men walked on the face of moon. The technological advancement that occurred in the span of one lifetime is staggering.

One year before the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, the astronauts of Apollo 8, as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve, read from a Gideon Bible to a listening nation. William Anders, James Lovell, and Commander Frank Borman read in succession the creation account from Genesis 1:1-10 as they looked back through the space capsule’s small window at the “good earth.”

During the 21 hours Neil Armstrong and lunar module commander Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were on the surface of the moon there was another Scripture reading. After requesting that the ground crew and all Americans (and citizens of the world) listening take a moment of silence to give thanks for the events of the previous hours, Aldrin read John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Unfortunately, due to pressure from a few protesting atheists over the Apollo 8 Bible reading, Aldrin’s Apollo 11 reading was not broadcast by NASA. Aldrin then partook in a unique communion service with elements he brought with him from his Houston Presbyterian church. The first food ever prepared and consumed on the moon represented the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Scripture text Aldrin read was most appropriate for the occasion. John 15:5, of course, communicates to the child of God his vital union with Christ. This was something that danger and distance did not diminish but rather accentuated for Aldrin. This verse was also selected to remind mankind that even his greatest achievements – traveling from Planet Earth to stand on the moon itself – could occur only with the enablement and providence of the Almighty.

In his September, 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy asked, “God’s blessing on the most hazardous, and dangerous, and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” What Buzz Aldrin read from the Bible, as he sat inside the Lunar module on Tranquility Base on the surface of the moon, reminded America and the world that his and Armstrong’s safe arrival on the lunar surface was the result of just what President Kennedy asked for – the blessing of God.