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The heavens are telling the glory of God

A service from Leicester Cathedral to mark the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

A service from Leicester Cathedral to mark the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

On 20 July 1969 human beings stepped onto the surface of the moon, in ‘one giant leap for mankind’.

Today’s service celebrates the achievement of the Apollo 11 Mission and asks whether the ‘giant leap’ has made us more, or less aware of our own human limitations and of our longing for God.

Led by the Dean of Leicester, the Very Reverend David Monteith, with contributions from Christians involved in Astrophysics & Space Science.

The Cathedral Choir lead the congregation in hymns including: The spacious firmament on high, The Servant King and Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Director of Music: Chris Ouvry-Johns. Organist: David Cowen. Producer: Alexa Good.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 14 Jul 2019 08:10


Please note:
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

Opening announcement from Continuity: BBC Radio 4.  At ten past eight it’s time for Sunday Worship, live from Leicester Cathedral which is near the National Space Centre.  The service marks the 50th Anniversary of the moon landings and is led by the Dean of Leicester, the Very Reverend David Monteith.

ARCHIVE INSERT: IN: “One small step for man, OUT: one giant leap for mankind”DUR: 0’10”

David:Good Morning and welcome to worship, not from the moon, but from Leicester Cathedral.  On the 20th July 1969  human beings first landed on the moon. Apollo 11 mission members Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and pilot Michael Collins were the first human beings ever to land on the moon. The Eagle had landed.  For some astronauts it was an intensely spiritual experience, with a quiet service of Holy Communion held in the lunar module.  For them, The heavens really were telling the Glory of God, as reflected in this setting by Haydn which opens our service.

Choir Introit: The heavens are telling the glory of God

David:This moment had been long awaited not least as part of a technological revolution emerging out of the destruction of the Second World War.  But it was also part of a political tussle between the West and the Soviets. Space was a new unconquered territory.  Let us pray:
O Christ the morning star,whose light inspires our journey;shine to illuminate our hearts and minds,open our imaginationto wonder at the vastness of the universeand to discern your purposefor us and for all of your creationso that in both small and giant stepswe may honour the one eternal God,Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
 David:There’s more to Leicester than a premier football club, the bones of a King found under a car park or a great curry.  Maybe you’ve been here to visit the National Space Centre and tried your hand at being an astronaut? There’s been a technical instrument designed by scientists from Leicester University in space every year since 1967.  Now they’re developing our Space Park creating jobs and pushing the quest for knowledge right to the frontiers.  ‘Space exploration changes your perception. It allows us to see things that we should have seen a long time ago’ so says Neil Armstrong in the 2018 biopic First Man. Faith also changes our perception.
Our worship began with the Choir singing ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ from Haydn’s Creation.  Christians believe the whole of creation is made and sustained by a good God. So we rejoice. 
In 1633 the astronomer Galileo was tried and condemned for his work arising from observing the heavens.  About 60 years later the English essayist and co-founder of the Spectator magazine Joseph Addison wrote his hymn connecting Christian faith and his early scientific observation of the skies – The spacious firmament on high. Hymn: The spacious firmament on high
David:The psalms celebrate the rhythm of the seasons, the tides, the day and the night marked by the rising and setting of the sun and the moon. The lunar calendar determines many religious traditions not least the Jewish Festival of Passover. It is celebrated on the first Full Moon following the vernal equinox.  
The death and resurrection of Jesus happened at the time of Passover and since the Council of Nicea in 325 the date of Easter follows as the first Sunday after that full moon. Sometimes schools and public bodies want to standardise public holidays and so abandon the lunar calendar.  I think we’d lose a lot. Following the trajectory of the moon, we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  Instead we are part of and indeed dependent on creation. The choir sing verses from Psalm 104.
 Choir: Psalm 104: v 1-2, v19-24, v31  plus Gloria
PRAISE the Lord, O my soul : O Lord my God, thou art become exceeding glorious; thou art clothed with majesty and honour.2 Thou deckest thyself with light as it were with a garment: and spreadest out the heavens like a curtain.19 He appointed the moon for certain seasons: and the sun knoweth his going down.20 Thou makest darkness that it may be night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do move.[21 The lions roaring after their prey: do seek their meat from God.22 The sun ariseth, and they get them away together: and lay them down in their dens.23 Man goeth forth to his work, and to his labour: until the evening.]24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.31 The glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever; the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy GhostAs it was in the beginning, is now ever shall be world without end.  Amen. 

David:Martin Barstow is a Professor of Space Physics and Space Science at the University of Leicester.  He has been involved in a number of space missions during his career – working on the voyager probes to outer planets and working extensively on the Hubble Telescope.   Martin was 11 years old when he watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon which sparked a curiosity in him.  Nicolle Finch is a PhD student working with Martin on White Dwarf stars. Her passion for space came from gazing at the rural night sky as a child. Together they explain why our human instinct for exploration and understanding is integral to God’s gift of creation.
PRE RECORDED INTERVIEW IN: “There is always a boundary in science…..”OUT:  “…. and further out, for more wonder.”DUR: 2’13”
TranscriptMARTIN:– there are things we can explain and, there are things that we understand about the universe that we can put into physics and equations, and we know, and we think we know why it’s all going on.  But, the harder you push the closer you get to the boundary where you cannot explain this using science, and for me it’s that boundary that defines the relationship between science and faith.  Where you can’t explain it with science, that’s where faith comes in.
NICOLLE:For me there was a time, around about the time that I was questioning my faith and what it meant for me as a scientist.  I had this really naive idea that my sin was my own and that Jesus didn’t need to die for me, and I really felt that in my life Jesus was saying to me, that’s not the point and I did this for you, and this happened on April Fools Day and a friend of mine quoted some scripture to me “that you have to become a fool to become truly wise” and I thought that was pretty relevant. 
I just look at the world around me and rather than seeing it as purely scientific I see it as something that God has made and it is to be marvelled at, so whilst marvelling at the world around me, I am also marvelling at what God has done.  
MARTIN:I think one of the most important questions for science at the moment is to answer the, are we alone question, is there life in the solar system.  We’re actually at the point in our technological development where we can answer that question in the next 10 years or so, and I think that poses an interesting challenge for people of faith, because if you have life elsewhere what does that mean?  I think we can cope with it, but it’s an important discussion that we need to have and how do you accept that we have a creator who is acceptable than more than just ourselves.
NICOLLE:It’s not just looking at a beautiful sun rise or sun set, it’s looking at a lot of beautiful things in space that God has created – almost that we weren’t satisfied with earth and kept looking further and further out, for more wonder.

 MUSIC: Hymn: The Servant King
Bible Reading - Canon Alison Adams
A reading from the prophet Joel, Chapter 2 beginning at verse 28:28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,    your old men shall dream dreams,    and your young men shall see visions.29 Even on the male and female slaves,    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.Choir The moon has slowly risen
David:The Choir with an arrangement and translation of Matthias Claudius’s Children’s song, Der Mond ist aufgegangen, The Moon has risen. 
Millions were captivated by the images of the Apollo 11 mission. People are still fascinated by the Moon.  Last year we were privileged to welcome thousands into our building when we hosted Luke Jerram’s artwork ‘the Museum of the moon’. It will be back with us in October.  It is a 7 metre diameter sphere covered with Nasa images of the moon’s surface including the dark side.  People lay under it, children’s eyes nearly fell out of their heads with wonder, and people were moved to pray who would never do that kind of thing. 
As mentioned earlier, one less well known story from July 1969 is that Buzz Aldrin (a Presbyterian Elder) brought bread and wine from church with him to the moon.   The first food eaten and the first liquid ever drunk on the moon’s surface were the elements of Holy Communion.  
This sacramental sign linking time and eternity, connecting people of every culture and background became a profound moment of thanksgiving for this monumental human achievement. Yet doing that set it all back in God’s perspective.  
Our universe depends on gravity, magnetism and nuclear forces.  The smallest change in any of these would make life impossible.  Everything is so finely balanced; governed by laws and circumstances which give birth to life. Some scientific exploration has sought to close down our conversation by providing neat answers to big questions.  Tidy equations and laws tell us a lot but they don’t tell us enough. 
Other researchers including eminent cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking have thought beyond the strictures of science to ask questions of meaning. Hawking asked ‘what is it that breathes fire into the equations?’ 
 The science that led to the Apollo exhibitions was amazing. The sheer joy of discovery was inspiring not only to do better and deeper science but to ask better and deeper spiritual questions. We now know more about the make-up of moon rocks and topography.  None of that tells me why my heart skips a beat when I see the moon aglow on a crisp frosty night or see it large and golden at harvest time.   Instead I find myself echoing the words of the priest poet Gerald Manley Hopkins when he wrote as if things are ‘charged with the grandeur of God’. 
Our bible passage from Joel spoke about the coming of God’s spirit.  The Spirit will empower our imagination to dream dreams and see visions. That includes Space scientists.  Also on the Day of the Lord the sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood.  In other words there is judgement as well as new possibility. When we consider sun and moon, we see ourselves in the order of creation. We reconnect with the sweep of time.  We face our hubris and the human propensity to imagine we can nail it all down. We see we are subject to the laws of nature yet our hearts and souls remind us insistently that there is more to all of this. 
The great East Window of Leicester Cathedral depicts Jesus Christ ascended in glory. Using a traditional life size image, his foot is touching a terrestrial ball about the size of a plate representing planet earth.  In his hand is another ball covered in stars representing the moon, the planets and the stars. We now know that the observable universe is at least 93 billion light years in diameter yet held in Christ’s hands it seems small.
The birth of space science requires Christians to explore spirituality on a cosmic scale. After all Christians speak of Jesus Christ as Lord of the Universe.  However that has new meaning since scientists can map the universe. We profess that Jesus was there at the beginning of creation. Through study of the planets we glimpse more of what the beginning of creation was like. We pray that heaven and earth might become reconciled.  In landing on the moon, we find that divide begins to be bridged. 
Time and time again human beings have looked beyond and looked up for inspiration. Looking at the moon we set ourselves in a larger frame. As we look to heaven we recognise our smallness and we begin to see ourselves as part of something far bigger. We glimpse God. Perhaps it is when things are really tough that we need this most. Mired by injustice the African American slaves sang ‘Come Sunday, that’s the day I believe God put sun and moon up in the sky’.  Duke Ellington composes this as part of his first Sacred Concert. ‘Please dear Lord above…see my people through’. 
Choir - Come Sunday by Duke Ellington, arranged by Alice Parker
PRAYERS: Led by Canon Emma Davies  
Emma: Let us pray
Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the gifts of creation and for those who serve as scientists and researchers working on the frontiers of knowledge and understanding.  Bless our universities, schools and colleges. Inspire our young people who become scientists and space researchers as they contemplate the universe to look beyond the physical causation to the spiritual realities of your love and grace. Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us
Jesus Redeemer, we pray for those engaged in the Space sector today.  Help us to use for the good of all the insights we are gaining from space to conserve and cherish this planet, reducing the environmental impact of our footprint on earth.Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us
Holy Spirit, in our common quest for knowledge build new co-operation, new connection and deeper respect for one another that the fruits of our enquiry might be for God’s glory and the flourishing of love and joy and peace.Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us
As we look to God’s horizon, we pray for the coming of His reign, thinking especially of those who are sick or in any kind of need or distress:
Our Father who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come.Thy will be doneon earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us,and lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.For thine is the kingdom,and the power, and the glory,for ever and ever. Amen.

David:Fifty years on from the first human moon landing, we have learnt much and indeed we have become reliant on space with nearly 5000 satellites orbiting planet earth.  As we build up more and more data may it provide routes to address everything from climate change to the discovery of new elements potentially revolutionising the human condition. Space has been called our final frontier but is it the absolutely final one?  Our final hymn points us to a spiritual realm, to the steadfastness of God and to His faithfulness to creation – strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
 HYMN: Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;

David:The God of all wisdom and understanding, enlighten your minds to perceive the mysteries of the universe,from the sun that shines by day to the moon that shines by nightand may the blessing of God,Creator, Redeemer and SustainerCome down upon you and remain with you always. Amen. 

Organ voluntary: Clair de Lune, Louis Vierne 


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