Notre Dame Fire and Communion on the Moon

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Credit: Earthrise by William Anders

Much has already been written and reported about the tragic fire causing severe damage to Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral earlier this week. My sadness joins that of many in the world.

Historical structures with cornerstones dating back to the early 12th century are priceless. More importantly, notwithstanding differences between Lutherans and Catholics, this cathedral has served as a place of worship for nine centuries. I hope and pray reconstruction will occur.

Today is Maundy Thursday, observed in the Christian Church throughout the world as the anniversary of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It happened as Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples. Biblical accounts are Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23.

On several occasions I’ve written about the Lord’s Supper, aka Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist, etc. But I don’t recall writing a Perspectives article that tells the story of Communion on the moon. So here we go.

Apollo 11 landed the first two human beings on the moon in July 1969. Those of us old enough to do so remember it well. It also marked the first occasion on which a Christian took the sacrament of Communion on an astronomical body other than Earth.

This event took place in the interval between the lunar module’s landing on the moon on July 20, 1969 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface several hours later. During that period of time, astronaut Buzz Aldrin privately observed Holy Communion using elements he had brought with him to the moon.

Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life. Knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor to help him. The pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon.

On the silent surface of the moon, nearly 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John and quietly took communion. Here is his own account of what happened:

“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. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’”

“I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Mission Control had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.”

“Then 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. 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 communion elements. Neil [Armstrong] watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time. I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

Not incidentally, another astronaut has done the same. Col. Jeff Williams, longtime faithful member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, communed numerous times during his lengthy stays aboard the International Space Station in 2006, 2009, and 2016, with sacramental elements consecrated at Gloria Dei.

I spoke with Jeff and his former pastor, Rev. John Kieschnick (my second cousin-once removed and very close friend) this week. Both men humbly and thankfully honor this wonderful spiritual and sacramental blessing from our Lord Jesus.

Regardless of where it is received, whether in a centuries old cathedral or on the moon, Holy Communion is a precious gift of God. It’s as close as a human can come to Christ this side of heaven. Receive it with a heart of thanks for God’s love, made real in the human being named Jesus, Savior of the world and Lord of the universe!

Terry and I pray that your observances of Holy Week and Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, will be blessed. And we pray for you and your family a joyous Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

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A Basketball Coach’s Prayer

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Credit: Wikipedia

As basketball fans know quite well, March Madness ended this past Monday night. In the final game, Virginia won the championship over Texas Tech in overtime. Numerous other games were played in a single elimination format. One loss and the team goes home.

After one of those earlier games, Virginia Tech’s Coach Buzz Williams prayed for the team’s three graduating students in the locker room following a two point loss to Duke in the Sweet 16. His prayer was a blessing and moved many to tears—even those who don’t follow college basketball.

Here are excerpts from an article by Megan Briggs, a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com:

Williams prayed for Ty Outlaw, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill, players who have been with him for the majority of his five years as coach of Virginia Tech men’s basketball. According to sports commentators, these young men have built Virginia Tech into a respected contender on the national college basketball scene, a fact that is clearly not lost on Williams and is apparent in his prayers.

Coach Williams said: “These young men will lead Fortune 500 Companies and will be good men, not just looking to the immediate future, but also down the line.” Williams prayed for Robinson: “I pray for his life as a leader, I pray for his life as a father, I pray for his life as a husband. As he becomes the governor, as he becomes the mayor, as he becomes the head coach, anoint him with the opportunity to impact people’s lives.”

Williams thanked God for Outlaw’s and Hill’s respective mothers, who he says supported their sons to be able to go to school and play basketball.

Indicating that Hill had had a troubled past or difficult family situation, Williams said, “I pray that as he becomes a husband, the examples that he’s seen since he’s been here will break the cycle in his life. I pray that as he becomes a leader, as he becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that he would continue to dispel every potential possible stereotype that’s been labeled to him.” 

Williams also prayed for the players to have humility. “God I pray that you would fill these guys with the right kind of humility and the right kind of love—that it’s not selfish, that it’s not for them…that they would know that the best kind of leadership is servant leadership.”

“Help them not to go astray. I pray that your spirit would guide the steps that they take.”

Williams ended his prayer assuring the players he would always be there for them. “Anytime you need a hamburger, anytime you need a place to stay, you call me. You’ll have my cell number the rest of your life…I will always take care of you. I will always take care of your mom.” 

“I’m incredibly thankful for the example you’ve set for my sons. I’m incredibly thankful for the example you’ve set for my daughters. Your character will always win,” Williams concluded.

It’s clear that character is a big theme in the Virginia Tech basketball program, and that Williams is an awesome coach. Telling the players he loves them, the heart of God the Father was on display that night in the locker room.

Interestingly, just a few days after losing to Duke, Coach Buzz Williams accepted the head basketball coaching position at Texas A&M, my alma mater. Regardless of the success of his team on the court, his godly influence will be a blessing!

As an added bonus, go to this link to get a glimpse of the way Coach Williams teaches his players about life, not just about playing a game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Qz58jMhDDA

One final note. After a valiant effort in the overtime championship game against Virginia, Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard headed to the locker room, followed by a CBS camera crew. As soon as he joined his team in the locker room, he and the team knelt for prayer. Almost immediately the camera switched from the locker room to the studio. I’m just sayin’ …

Perhaps we’re seeing a trend. Whether or not the Triune God actually cares about collegiate basketball or sports of any kind, it’s always OK to pray! God bless your day!

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

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At my mother’s memorial service last month I was invited to share a few reflections. One story I told described the time she washed my mouth out with soap. I can still taste that nasty soap! I was probably nine or ten years old and she had heard me say a bad word. I learned my lesson and never again said that word … at least not in her presence.

The last sentence in the paragraph above illustrates another life lesson I learned—always to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In that sentence I could have said only “I learned my lesson and never again said that word.” But that would not have been totally truthful. The real truth is in the words “… at least not in her presence.”

It was through a stern warning of my dear father that I learned that lesson about telling the truth. Daddy was bigger and stronger than I. So I chose not to test the sincerity of his warning because I had no desire to taste the punishment I’d likely receive if I ignored it.

Accordingly, when it was time to fess up regarding matters of importance about which my father was inquiring, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It worked. He never had to make me taste his recipe for corporal punishment.

Perhaps that’s why I become so aggravated today with those who don’t adhere to that principle about truth. I see and hear partial truths or half-truths in the lives and words of public figures in the political, secular, and even ecclesiastical worlds.

All too often I’ll hear something said that I know is not completely truthful. It may contain a grain of truth. But if it leaves out critical parts of the story, it falls woefully short of actually being the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

To add insult to injury, when caught, some with that propensity will offer an apology to “anyone who was offended.” But when the apology itself also includes half-truths or omits salient portions of the real truth, disdain and disrespect are further fueled.

That’s particularly true when those who hear the apology don’t know the rest of the story and treat the culprit as a hero, thanking him for his apology, applauding him for his humble spirit. It’s frustrating to see uninformed people misled by someone in a position of trust and authority.

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Prov. 12:22

I love the Old Irish Blessing: “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping!” The same blessing applies to those who don’t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Beware of twisted ankles! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Celebration of Life

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Credit: Wikipedia

Two weeks ago this morning my mother went to heaven. This past Saturday we laid her physical body to rest in the cemetery plot right next to my father. Most of our family watched as her casket was slowly lowered into its final resting place. Those who wanted to do so dropped a bit of sand onto her casket. “Earth to earth … ashes to ashes … dust to dust.”

Saturday’s memorial service was a wonderful mixture of sadness and rejoicing. Sadness because Mom will no longer be present in our lives. Rejoicing because she prayed for nearly three years that Jesus would take her home to heaven. Jesus finally answered her prayer.

During the week between her passing and burial, her children and grandchildren took care of the multifaceted details connected with death. Funeral home. Casket selection. Flower shop. Informing relatives and friends. Notifying pallbearers. Securing travel and lodging. Planning the family gathering. Communicating with pastor. Selecting organist. Editing photos. Finalizing and publishing obituary. Scheduling cemetery arrangements. Ordering headstone engraving.

Lots of important details needed to be taken care of. The result was a service of thanksgiving to God for our mother’s life and love, followed by a wonderful reception with food and drink, hosted by members of Mom’s church.

There were tears that day. There was also rejoicing. Most of our family members and many friends, both current and historic, paid their respects to Mother and shared their love with our family.

Many gave flowers or memorial gifts in her loving memory. Countless cards, letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls were received, all incredible outpourings of love. It would be nearly impossible to respond to each of those acts of care and concern. Many thanks to all of you!

During Mother’s 34 ½ months in assisted living, many friends and family visited her, almost daily. Many but not all of them signed the guest book near the door. After her funeral I counted the names in the book, a total of 2,080 visitors in slightly more than 1,000 days.

My comments near the end of the service included quotes from the Hymn I’m But a Stranger Here, Heav’n is My Home and concluded with the words: Goodbye, Mother Elda. You’re now home. In heaven. With our father Martin. Rest in peace. We’ll see you again. Someday. At home! 

Our final moments with our mother in that house of God, Cross Lutheran Church in New Braunfels, Texas, were a celebration of life for a woman who was blessed by God to be a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend.

To God alone be the glory!

Finding the Right Words

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This weekend our family will celebrate the life of our dear mother and will lay her mortal remains to rest. We thank God for her legacy and are truly thankful for the many expressions of love, care, and concern that have come from friends around the state and across the country.

What does one say when a friend’s loved one dies? At such times in my life, I think carefully, trying to choose the right words. Sometimes I think I succeed. At other times, not so much.

My thought is that what to say depends on the circumstances of the death of the person in question. What was the cause of death? The age of the deceased? Was it expected, after a lengthy illness? Or was it sudden? Did the deceased leave young dependent family members? Was it an infant who died? Had the person who died lived a lonely existence for many years?

My father died 36 years ago after more than a year of struggling with cancer. He was only 66. My mother and her four adult children weren’t ready for him to leave. Neither was he.

Mother died peacefully in her sleep at 102 years and 9 months, quite alert and fairly active till a few days before her death. She was ready to go. It would have been selfish for us to pray otherwise.

At Daddy’s death our family was grieving. His friends were also grieving. The words they shared with us reflected their sadness and disappointment following the death of a man who had only rarely been sick. Their words also focused on how much they knew we would miss him.

In Mom’s case, most people knew she had been praying that the Lord would take her home. So had her family. She had terminal congestive heart failure and had lived alone 36 years, the last 34 ½ months in assisted living. She wanted to go to heaven. Her death was a blessing.

Notwithstanding those circumstances, at Mom’s passing many friends of our family shared their love and concern in words expressing sorrow, condolence, and sympathy. My first words a week ago when I heard the news that she had passed were “God be praised! She’s now in heaven!”

Some of our neighbors brought a floral arrangement to our home with a card that said “May all your days be filled with the beautiful memories of your mother!” A second floral note said “May the certainty of the resurrection bring you joy even in the midst of your mourning.”

One thoughtful card said “We are among the multitude of saints rejoicing that Elda is now in the presence of the Lamb!” Another note said “We thank God for the mother who gave birth to you, a blessed woman of God indeed!  Now the cloud of witnesses just got stronger!”

Here are three points to consider when finding the right words to say at a time of death. First, put yourself in the shoes of the survivors and try to imagine what you might want to hear if it were your loved one who had died. Then say or write those words from your heart.

Second, try very hard not to let your anxiety and fear about what to say prevent you from saying or writing anything. Just knowing you care enough to express your love is priceless.

Third, don’t forget what Christians believe about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Those are promises of God that bring hope, comfort, and joy!

Rest in peace, dear Mom. We all love you more than words can say!

I Wish I Could Wave a Magic Wand

People, Father, Daughter, Smile, Happy, Hug, Carry

Not long ago I was waiting for a plane that would take me back home to Terry after a long weekend of preaching, teaching, and visiting with folks about estate planning and charitable giving. The plane was delayed two hours. I was tired and ready to get home.

After the plane finally arrived at the airport, an attendant announced that passengers on the flight should begin to line up according to the number on their boarding pass. Travelers reading this post probably know by now that I was traveling on Southwest Airlines. But I digress.

In the line for passengers needing additional assistance I happened to notice a young girl, probably six or seven years old, holding on to an adult male, probably 35 years old. She was crying softly but emotionally. He was trying to console her, without much success.

As the little girl cried, she wiped away her tears with her hands, apparently having no tissue or handkerchief. The man, whom I surmised to be her father, held out a corner of his jacket for her to use. She dried those tears, which were very quickly replaced by a new flood.

When it was her turn to board the plane, she clung more tightly to her father. After she had finally let go of him and walked down the jet bridge with the attendant, I passed him on my way to the plane, stopped, and simply said: “You’re a loving father. It’s not always easy.”

I had fairly quickly concluded that the young lady was visiting her father over the weekend, that he lived in the vicinity, and that her mother lived in Austin, the destination of my flight.

Those conclusions were confirmed after our flight landed in Austin. At the arriving passengers baggage claim I saw the same young girl. She was with an adult woman, probably 35 years of age. Their greeting at the airport of arrival did not appear to be nearly as tender as the one I had witnessed at the airport of departure. Yet it appeared that she was back with her mother.

The custody of a child shared by two obviously separated and probably divorced parents is not uncommon in today’s world. Yet the frequency of such custodial relationships in no way lessens the emotional tug-of-war that characterizes the lives of many such young girls and boys. It’s not easy for a child to move forth and back between his or her parents.

The natural relationship between a child and parents is for the child to live with and be raised by both parents. Divorce changes that natural order. In most cases a dependent child must share time with two different people in two different homes. Divorced parents most often still love their child deeply. And the child most often still loves both of his or her parents unceasingly.

In many cases, as in the one I’ve shared with you today, that love is often accompanied by tearful goodbyes. I wish I could wave a magic wand!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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Credit: Wikipedia

One tradition I particularly enjoy during the Christmas season is singing carols and songs. One of my favorites is The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The carol has its roots in 18th-century England. Several theories exist regarding the meaning of the lyrics. One suggests the song was a memory-and-forfeit game sung by British children. In the game, players had to remember all the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, a kiss or a piece of candy, to the others.

Another theory connects the carol to the era when Catholicism was outlawed in England, 1558-1829. That source says the carol was a song to help young Catholics learn the faith, which could not be openly practiced in Anglican society.  Here are the verses with their suggested meaning, according to that interesting but unsubstantiated theory:

  • A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ
  • Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments
  • Three French Hens – The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
  • Four Calling/Collie Birds – Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • Five Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament
  • Six Geese-a-Laying – Six days of creation before God’s rest on the seventh day
  • Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Eight Maids-a-Milking – Eight Beatitudes
  • Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Ten Lords-a-Leaping – Ten Commandments
  • Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven faithful disciples
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming -Twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed

The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the 12-day period from Dec. 25, celebrated as the birth of Jesus, to the day before Epiphany, which is actually celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the three kings/wise men visited the baby Jesus.

Regardless of which explanation you choose to accept, observing the Twelve Days of Christmas is a good way to extend our remembrance of the birth of Jesus, the reason for the season!

Merry Twelve Days of Christmas!