Solidarity means a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests, goals, etc. It was first used in English in 1841. It first came to my attention in 1980 when the Polish people founded a trade union by that name to stand up to Communism which had not yet crumbled in Eastern Europe. It's a good feeling to be at one with others in a common cause; it's a better feeling to be at one with God in the cause of your salvation.
God is one with us in our flesh. The invisible, immortal, eternal, Almighty God is one with us in our flesh. In the Person of Jesus He knows how it feels to be born and even to grow. Luke 2 says of Jesus, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men." How can that be? How could the One who is invisible have shown up on an ultra sound? How can the immortal take on mortality, the eternal grow in time, the Almighty become a helpless Baby?
I don't know how the One who walks the halls of pristine heaven, the One whom Job said even angels are not pure enough for can know, have, feel all of our bodily functions. God in flesh and blood was no stranger to ingestion, digestion, or elimination. In all the bodily functions that aren't gone into in polite company God in Christ was in solidarity with us. This is true even when those functions were afflicted, diseased, sick. "Surely He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows," says Isaiah. From head colds, to stomach flus, to rashes, and sleeplessness. The God who was one with us in flesh and blood was one with us in these too.
You are amazed when a lower life form shows you sympathy when you're sad. You're comforted by the cat or dog that nuzzles you when you're sick. You don't feel so lonely when the dog bounds toward you or your parrot talks to you. Even people with fish and snakes find solace in their apparent solidarity with them. But you're not amazed, dumbstruck, dumbfounded, how about comforted (?) that the One infinitely above and beyond you is at one with you in your flesh?
Solidarity that's what we're celebrating this Ascension Day. God is one with us in the flesh and one with us in temptation. Scripture says that: we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses; we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. From the devil in blue jeans, to temptations that make our mouth water, to temptations that feels too strong for flesh and blood, to ones that roil and boil them, God in flesh and blood knew them, experienced them.
In the midst of temptations right is wrong and down is up. As the song goes, "If it feels so right it can't be wrong." Temptation teaches, preaches, and convinces you that you will die unless you give up, give in, and go along. When we think temptation, we primarily think sexual, but we learn from Jesus' great temptation that temptation is primarily about fearing, loving, and trusting God above all else: above the need for food, fellowship, sex, success, happiness, or health. Learn from our Catechism that temptation starts not with allurement from outside but misbelief inside.
And God is right there with you in it. You have solidarity with the one true God in the midst of temptations that break your heart, soul, and mind. Psalm 103 assures us that God knows we are but dust. How? Not just because He made us but because He descended into our dust. Hebrews 4 says Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses because He was tempted in all ways as we are. Hebrews 2 says, "Because Jesus Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted."
But you know being tempted is not sinning. The fact that temptations fly through your head faster than birds in flight and in flocks at a time is no sin. Giving in, going along in thought or deed is. But God is not only one with you in temptation, but one with you in sin. It's not like the Lone Ranger joke where he and Tonto are surrounded by Indians and the Lone Ranger asks Tonto what are we going to do, and Tonto responds, "What do you mean we' white man?" Even when we're surrounded by the sins we have welcomed with open hearts and arms, God refuses to break solidarity with us. He doesn't say, "What do you mean we' sinner?"
Actually, God is not one with us; He's the One in front of us. When you read your Psalms you should be hearing that Jesus was the target of all God's arrows of judgment; all the waves of God's wrath broke on Jesus' shores first. The Law ran at Jesus like an armed warrior, and Jesus said to you, "Quick; get behind Me." Again you would all "Aww, ohh," at a dog throwing its body before an attacker; yet you sit there unknowing, unmoved, uncaring that the true God did that for you when Death and the Devil charged at you with all of God's wrath behind them.
Maybe you really don't know what God in Jesus did for you? Maybe you've never felt utter shame for something you thought, said or did? Maybe you've never feared a punishment you really deserved? I know how mad I can get when someone has wronged me. I know how I can stare daggers at the clerk who I think mistreated me. I know I can spit menacing words at someone I think is wronging me. I know how mad I've gotten at my children when they failed to fear my anger or to love and trust me as their father. But the holy God? No, I'm quite sure it doesn't bother Him when I fear the economy or a weak human being more than Him. I'm sure the true God doesn't mind when I trust the words of men more than His. I'm sure the fact that I can express love for food and drink in the same way I express love for Him is no biggie to Him either.
God the Son was so much in solidarity with my sin and sinfulness that when God's cup of wrath was poured, He pushed me out of the way and drank it all. When the arrows of God's judgment were let loose, Jesus shoved me aside so two pierced His hands, one pierced His feet, and another His side. When Death and Devil charged demanding their rightful payment, God in Jesus met these armed maniacs and said, "I'll pay for them."
But that's not what we're here celebrating tonight. We're not so much celebrating the fact that God is one with us in our flesh, in our temptations, in our sins, but one with us right now. This is what the Ascension marked. Remember after Jesus rose from the dead He told Mary Magdalene that she couldn't hold on to Him because He hadn't yet ascended to His Father? All she could do until He did that was to be one with Him, at one place, at one time like she had during His earthly ministry. But after the ascension she could hold on to Him all the time, anywhere.
The Russian soldiers have an expression something like "feel of cloth." It refers to the solidarity, the good feeling they get being shoulder to shoulder heading into harms way. Now I'm a person with a big personal space. I don't want to be touching the person next to me in a pew even if they're family. But when I did my first parachute jump, I remember it feeling good sitting between 2 other soldiers who were going to out that door with me. The warmth from their bodies warmed my heart. The touch of their shoulders assured me I wasn't alone. There was strength in this solidarity.
I didn't even know those guys much less like them or even know what if anything they felt about me. Your Jesus, God the Son, does know you and likes you so much He loves you unconditionally. As you taxi down life's runaway and into the skies above, He's there shoulder to shoulder with you. As the door swings open and you hear the fearful rushing sound of change, of illness, or even the roar of death, Jesus remains by your side. He's going through this with you come hell or high water because of the shallow but sacred waters of Baptism. More about this in a second. First we go to Samuel B. Roberts.
The USS Samuel B. Roberts was a destroyer escort in World War II. It was part of a Navy convoy that was surprised by a vastly superior Japanese fleet off the Philippine islands during the US retaking of them. The Samuel B. Roberts charged right into the teeth of the enemy. She was destroyed and sank. Many men died. Many more were adrift at sea for days. Some went crazy; some were eaten by sharks; some swam off into the night never to be seen again.
In December 1984 the Navy christened a second USS Samuel B. Roberts. It was guided missile frigate. In 1988 during the Iraq and Iran war it was escorting a ship in the Persian Gulf and struck an Iranian mine. With a hole 28 feet long in its side, enough to sink most ships her size, her crew worked fiercely to save a ship that was taking on a foot of water every 15 minutes. The second Samuel B. Roberts had a plaque amidships honoring her namesake with the names of all those lost in 1944. The 1988 captain said that in the struggle to save the ship all the sailors passing by that plaque touched it showing their solidarity with those who died in 1944 and gaining strength from their sacrifice (The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, chp. 56).
If those sailors could get a sense of solidarity from a plaque, how much more solidarity do we really get from the God who washes our bodies and souls with the very same water He was and which water now sprinkles us with His sin-covering Blood? If those sailors got strength, got courage, got comfort from a plaque bearing the names of men before them who had made a great sacrifice, how much more can you get from the actual Body and Blood Jesus sacrificed on the cross?
You can see those sailors running by quickly touching the plaque. You know they certainly feel a solidarity with those before them. The Baptism that washed over you; the Body and Blood of Jesus that you eat and drink actually gives you, conveys to you solidarity. Paul says Baptism clothes you with Jesus. You come away from Baptism dressed in Jesus blood and righteousness. You come away from Communion with the Body and Blood of Jesus flowing, through yours. In these things is where the ascended Jesus holds on to you and you are to hold on to Him. Here's where you are to know there is solidarity between you and Him in life, in sickness, in health, till death not part you but join you face to face. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Ascension of our Lord (20120517)