I – Liftoff
“Let us go over to the other side.” Such was the bidding of Christ to his disciples upon the shore of the Galilee lake. “And they launched forth upon the deep.”
So simply, so unerringly does the Bible portray that primordial urge in man that requires him to trace out with his stubby finger the wondrous shape of Creation. Never may the human spirit be content to sit by the lake; man must up, to follow his maker across the deeps, questing after those invisible things that God has given him to find, that have to do with who he is, and what he is meant to be, and the holiness that is in all things.
Never mind the storms; never count the cost; reckon not the doubt, nor the fear: for it is writ upon the code of his genes, that Abraham should journey to the unknown land which God would show to him; that Jacob upon his pilgrimage should dream of angels connecting his faltering step to the mighty tread of eternity; that Vikings should sail the Northern seas; and Polynesians discover the Southern isles; that patient minds should insatiably probe the marvelous texture of connection, the infinite skein of facts that are woven into the miracle that surrounds us.
Not upon this planet until the present generation has this heaven-bred curiosity broken through the terrestrial envelope that hitherto condemned us to the perspective of a fish at the bottom of its bowl. Our praise of God this day is thanksgiving for that immense act of courage which at last succeeded in breaching the chrysalis, and sending us on wings of daring to the first stepping-stone of universe, where five years ago this very day, members of our race made the first human footprints upon the moon.
The sun that lit their faces on that day, and the stark landscape around them, was also the brightness of a new day for mankind; he had climbed another rung on the ladder of heaven.
II – Sojourn beyond Earth
Think of Mike Collins, disappearing totally alone to the far side of the moon, his hope of ever seeing Earth again dependent utterly upon those long chains of calculation by which we encode the knowledge we accumulate and the safety we predict.
Remember Buzz Aldrin calling for a moment of silence in the interplanetary chatter so that all who watched that night might be still and know that ’tis God who sustains, though a man “take the wings of the morning” and “climb up into heaven,” as the psalmist says.
And in the mind of the commander, Neil Armstrong, what solitude of responsibility lent poignancy to his unspoken prayer! It’s God who gives grace to withstand the limitless capacity of disaster; ’tis he who guards the minutes and the hours and the days of hope. His angels keep the spirit warm, even as one strives with all one’s might to fend off fear and make no mistake whatsoever.
Thus it must have been, five years ago, when these three men who are the emblems of all mankind ventured a quarter of a million miles into the nearer borders of God’s unbounded majesty, and there beheld across the barren vacancy of the lunar waste, the lovely blue and tan and white of rising Earth, shining in the sun.
Then did one of those men stoop down and pick up a rock. God’s might; God’s mercy: it was a sign of both. These are the same men who come now to offer at his altar that stone, in praise and thanksgiving to the everlasting glory of that Creator God.
III – Splash Down
When the astronauts of Apollo 11, and the brave men who followed on succeeding missions to the moon, brought back some chunks of lunar material, it was not just bits of rock they returned to Earth, but, in an exciting way, the very horizon of eternity!
Anyone who sees one of those stones—pilgrims to this Cathedral in all time to come will see the ancient piece of moon embedded in the window we dedicate today—cannot but sense something of the awe those Christmas shepherds felt when they saw what they took to be the effulgence of heaven, hovering over the field where they lay.
For there in that tiny piece of stone is writ, all unweathered and unworn, the history of the origins of everything, including us. Billions of years, recorded and decipherable for us to read!
But yet much more: for these rocks are only the first little doors to mansions infinitely wider still. Beyond the moon: the planets next and beyond the solar system—what after that?
Let the sliver of moon given here be an emblem, then, in this house of prayer, of that more wholesome vision which distance lends of the judgment of eternity. The little stone is very old: 3.6 billion years, we are told. How old is God who made it all? The little stone is dense, basaltic residue of some fire akin to that of a star. Out of what dark mystery came the first great explosion of Being? There is also in the bit of rock you have seen here today a new mineral discovered, unknown to Earth. Perhaps God has some fresh new thing to tell us by the courage of these adventurers who brought it to this place.
If so, it can only be word of His love, who deigns to share with us so much, and one by one to open to our eyes the secrets of His making and to our hearts the treasure of His holiness.