We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Hard to believe 50 years has passed and if you are like me you may have wondered all these years later: “How did they pull this moon shot off? With less computer power than is in the average pocket here today, they flew to the moon, landing on its service, re-docking the lunar module while the two craft orbited the moon.”
To state the obvious, the moon is really far away. But, as interesting as the moon was, it was the images looking back at the earth, this tiny marble of color in a sea of blackness, that fittingly take your breath away.
During the recent coverage of the Apollo 11 anniversary they reached back to that Apollo 8 mission. They recalled how the astronauts were told that they would have the largest television viewing audience in history—no pressure—and they should do something appropriate. When the time came, they read their Christmas Eve message:
We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.
With Apollo 11, the person charged with communicating between ground control and Apollo 11 was Michael Collins. Poetic as he was, he recalled in a recent interview flubbing the opportunity to say something profound (like Apollo 8 when they referenced the book of Genesis) the moment Apollo 11 was to fire its boosters to leave the earth’s orbit en route to circle the moon.
The technical term for the maneuver was “lunar thrust injection,” “LTI” for short. When the command was given, all he said was, “Apollo 11, you’re go for LTI.” And the response was something like, “Roger, LTI.” No poetry, no profundity, Collins later regretted.
“The Earth is the Lord’s"
As with Apollo 8, Collins could have drawn upon the rich imagery of the Scriptures when it comes to understanding our relationship to our earth home, for example, Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.
The Bible makes an important assertion. The place doesn’t belong to us. The earth is the creator’s — God’s.
We’re allowed to live in it and to enjoy it and to use its amazing productivity. But we don’t own it and so are not free to do with it whatever we want. The problem is that we act like it’s ours alone and in the process we seem to be creating some fairly significant problems for those who will come after us.
We heard the astronauts recalling the first chapters of Genesis, the story of creation. And while we may fuss with the issues of whether or not it is accurate historically and scientifically, where the garden was, we miss what the story is about — which is that God is the creator, the creation is good, God blesses the creation and God puts human beings in it to enjoy it and take care of it.
In the Bible, we get the responsibility for tending to the garden. God puts people in the garden and tells them to “till it and keep it.” God puts people in the creation process — to exercise responsibility over all the rest of it. “Dominion” is the word the Bible uses. It means to take care, loving, tender, and responsible care of the precious gift of the Earth.
That is at the very heart of our faith, the goodness and fullness of God’s creation and our God given responsibility to take good care of it.
And then, in the fullness of time, God came into creation, into the world, in the birth of a child in Bethlehem. And among the many meanings the incarnation — the gift of Jesus Christ — has for us is this: God loves and blesses the world and human life by visiting it and becoming part of it, by living and dying in it and by rising again to redeem it — the whole creation, about which St. Paul wrote provocatively, is groaning in anticipation, waiting for, longing for its redemption, its wholeness, its salvation.
It is time now for people of faith to recover our oldest theological and biblical tradition. The invitation is to reclaim both the gift, the amazing miracle of the earth - and - to reclaim the responsibility God has given us.
Back to that interview with Michael Collins, on the 50th anniversary, Collins was interviewed and asked if he was at the controls and could do it all over again, what call would you give - something poetic like those of Apollo 8 or like Armstrong with his famous words of the giant leap? Collins thought, “Well, I would abide by NASA rules, which you can’t say more than I think eight words in a row, and, preferably they will all be monosyllabic. So, Collins paused, “under those conditions, I would say, ‘Apollo 11, the moon is yours. Go.’ ”
We are invited to reclaim our oldest theology of creation, the praise and gratitude it evokes — and the responsibility. The earth is the Lord’s the Psalmist says, but God entrusts it to us to care for it and says: “Go.”
1. For the history on the Moon Shot, some of the events have embedded link for further research.
4. Bill McKibben, The End of Nature, http://billmckibben.com/end-of-nature.html
5. Elaine Pagels’ Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, (Vintage Books, 1989).