Exploring Outer and Inner Space
Celebration of Space Exploration – 1/7/14
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (with communion)
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
If you happened to look up at the sky last night, you might have noticed an especially bright object. I was watching it all through our Christmas break, and wondering if this dazzling star had a name. It made me curious and excited my imagination. Could it be, I thought, something like the “wild star” that the wise men followed 20 centuries ago – the one that led to Bethlehem?
It turns out that what we’ve been seeing in the winter sky isn’t a star at all – it’s the planet Jupiter, a planet as big as 1,000 Earths rolled together. The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter is the closest this week that it will be all year – “only” 391 million miles away. I know all this because wise men and women study the heavenly bodies, the way the magi did so long ago. These scientists know the names of every star, and where each one will be at what time of year. Unlike the magi, they put all this wonderful information on the Internet for you and me.
People have always been fascinated with the skies, and long before the time of the Magi, ancient astronomers learned to predict their movements. That’s why those wise men we remember today knew there was something strange afoot when they spotted a star they had never seen before — something so unusual that they had to follow it and see where it would lead. As we also heard today, it led them to a Child.
Today, we remember the magi. But this is also a day when some churches commemorate other star followers, other explorers of outer space. You see, science – like knowing the paths of the stars and planets — and mystery – like imagining what that great light could be — are not so far apart. Knowledge and mystery are like two sides of a coin, two gifts given by the same God.
Long before you were born, back when I was a teenager, curious star followers landed on the moon for the first time. The words everyone remembers were spoken by Neil Armstrong, who said as he set foot on the surface: “One small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.”
But here are the words that his partner, Buzz Aldrin, spoke: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
With those words from the communion service, Aldrin opened two little plastic packages given to him by his Texas church. Into a tiny silver chalice, he poured wine from a vial about the size of his finger tip. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully crawled up the side of the cup. Aldrin remembers: “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 [on the moon]. 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 [bread and wine of] communion.”
Interesting, indeed. The fruit of the earth — the earth on which Jesus Christ was pleased to dwell as one of us – came with the first earthlings to walk the surface of another heavenly body. The earth-stuff that in Jesus’ hands became food for our souls as well as our bodies had soared beyond the limits of earth, and nourished the spirit of an explorer of outer space.
It was not only outer space, of course, that Buzz Aldrin was exploring. It was also inner space – the mysterious space within each of us where the presence of God abides. It’s that presence that gives us the curiosity, the courage, and the commitment to explore uncharted paths, to learn new things, to take new risks. It’s that presence that the Magi sought, and that we seek when we follow any star.
As we begin a new season of learning and growing, may you follow your star. Through knowledge and mystery, may you come to know God. Amen.