Mary, the Moon landings and being busy

About this content: This is a transcript of what the speaker said. It is ‘as delivered’ with the exception of minor editing that does not affect sense.

Revd Vanessa Lawrence: speaking at All Saints, North Baddesley

May I speak in the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

I wonder if Paul looked up at the moon in the heavens and had it mind when he wrote to the Colossians describing Jesus as the:

…image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in him all things in Heaven and on Earth were created, things visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers; all things have been created through him and for him.

The Bible – Colossians 1.15-17 (Speaker’s rendering)

The moon would have had great significance at the time of course, in many areas of life whether in terms of navigation, time or myths and legends. Our fascination with the moon continues today. I’m sure that you have been as transfixed as I have been with the moon landing pictures this weekend as we remember 50 years, since that giant leap made by Neil Armstrong and his co-pilot Buzz Aldrin. We do have some pictures, in case you haven’t seen them. These are the digitally remastered ones I don’t know if you’ve seen these – I hope? They are rather spectacular.

Now although all of you here look as though you’ve only just left school last week, I do wonder if one or two of you maybe remember that time. Do you remember it happening?

There was a discussion at this point in the talk, which was not recorded.

I don’t because I wasn’t born; I’d just like to drop that in. I think one of the reasons that these images are so transfixing, is the contrast that we see and hear and feel in the whole episode of the moon landing. The enormity of the moon up close, when it seems so tiny from our perspective down here. The smallness of the lunar capsule, the Eagle, and the smallness of humanity in contrast to the vastness of the universe that spreads itself out before us.

I think that what also came across to me was the busyness of the control room. These sheets of paper, being scribbled on, hundreds of ‘computers’ flashing, the counting and the fast paced calculations that were made and re-made, as the capsule came closer and closer to the surface of the moon. Yet there was the moon in stillness, in silence, and in breathtaking peacefulness.

Buzz Aldrin as I expect many of you will know, was a practicing Christian and when the lunar capsule landed he asked for a time of silence and he said

“I would 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.

Buzz Aldrin, to Control Room at the Landing of Eagle on the Moon, 1969. (Speaker’s rendering)

And what a moment of absolute awesomeness it must have been for him to stop, and contemplate the scene before him. He then silently read to himself from John 15.5 which he penned on a 3 by 5 inch note card.

That verse says: “As Jesus said: 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.

The Bible – John 15.5 (Speaker’s rendering)

He then went on to take communion, which he had brought with him.

He said afterwards: “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. And in the one – sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the first food eaten there were communion elements”. The body and blood of Christ, broken for us and shared on the moon.

For Aldrin the significance of the bread and the wine was that it was the revelation of Christ through ordinary human elements. He believed that the NASA space programme was part of God’s revelation to human kind. With the awe inspiring images that we’ve seen this weekend, it’s easy to see why he may have thought that way, as we too are drawn into contemplation of the wonders of the universe.

Someone else who is contemplating is Mary in our Gospel reading this morning. She sits at Jesus’ feet and contemplates his words in contrast to Martha who is busy with her tasks. Mary rather scandalously for society at the time, is not only taking her place with the men, but sitting at the feet of Jesus as if he were a rabbi. Her focus is on Christ. She is stillness personified, contemplating the one for whom all things in heaven and on earth were created. Martha not unreasonably is a little miffed by this, but in her conversation with he [Jesus] challenges not her busyness, but her distraction.

Our gaze can be on God no matter how busy we are and it’s when we lose that contemplation of Christ in the midst of life that things start to slide. We become worried, troubled, torn in many directions, and resentful: ultimately of all that we are doing. Life becomes far from the abundance that Jesus promised, and generally speaking it becomes unfruitful, we achieve less, despite our busyness.

For Buzz Aldrin and others, the pinnacle of years of frenetic work was to contemplate the one for whom all heaven and earth was created. The moon landing couldn’t have happened without the intense activity of the NASA control room. [Yet] Aldrin’s intimate contact with the enormity of the universe allows all of us to contemplate the indescribable vastness of the love that God has for each one of us. And so a challenge for all of you this morning. How will your busyness give you the opportunity to contemplate God’s love this week?