On 20 July 1969 the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong’s first step on to the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV around the world. He said, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Throughout the rest of his life Neil Armstrong avoided public interviews and died in 2012, aged 82.
Astronauts who went to the moon spoke of the sense of awe they experienced as they saw the Earth from the moon. Buzz Aldrin took with him a small plastic container of wine and some bread which he had been given by his church, where he was an elder. While he was on the moon, during a time of radio silence, he quietly ate the bread and drank the wine and remembered his Saviour, Jesus, who loved him and died for him. He said it was his way of thanking God for the success of the mission.
On 24 December 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 were being televised as they orbited the moon. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman read in turn from Genesis, Chapter 1. Bill Anders said, “We are now approaching the 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.”
Charles Duke who was part of the Apollo 16 mission and walked on the moon in 1972. He became a Christian in 1978. He said that before he became a Christian his temper, ego, single-minded devotion to work and greed had ruined his relationship with his wife and children but becoming a Christian had changed him and transformed his relationship with his family. He also wrote, “I used to say I could live ten thousand years and never have an experience as thrilling as walking on the moon. But the excitement and satisfaction of that walk doesn’t begin to compare with my walk with Jesus, a walk that lasts forever.”
For the first time this year the Remembrance Day Service took place without a veteran of World War I. In May, the world’s last known combat veteran of that war, Claude Choules, died in Australia aged 110. It is right that we remember the World Wars of the 20th century which wrought a terrible toll on our nation and on the world. More than 5 million men from Britain served in World War 1 and 44% were either killed or wounded. During World War II more than 60 million people died, 2.5% of the world’s population, including 450,000 British soldiers and civilians.
Remembrance Day is a deeply emotional experience for the veterans as they remember the terrible events of the wars in which they fought. Many of the young men involved in the D-Day landings have never spoken about what they experienced as they saw their friends killed and maimed. It is moving to see these, now elderly men, marching with great dignity as they remember their fallen comrades. Sadly, they are now joined by a younger generation of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who remember their colleagues who have died.
The men and women who died in the great wars of the last century offered the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives in the hope that future generations might live in peace and security. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery in Kohima, Nagaland, is a moving challenge, “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today.” It is right that we remember them.
Christians remember a young man who died, not in war, but on a Cross. On the night before he went to the Cross Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Jesus is the hope of the world. His death and resurrection tower over the sorrows and tragedies of history. Because of him a day will surely come when “they shall neither harm nor destroy, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”