The sign on the post says, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Not everyone has understood that to be applicable to them, but the fact of the sign has encouraged the church to at least try to be welcoming. Many churches in their search processes proudly state "we are a welcoming church." They believe it, and we want to believe it as well.
So, lets think for a moment about signs on the post.
The Last Supper in Egypt, also known as the Passover, had signs on the door posts – the blood of the Passover lamb. The blood was a sign and meant, "the people of God are here." God's plagues read the signs and move on. And then the next day the people moved out to follow God into the wilderness.
In the Gospel for Maundy Thursday there is another sign, this time not on the door posts of the house, but the door posts of the heart: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Where are the sign posts for this sign? Well, in the heart of every Christian who welcomes in the stranger.
Imagine we were to put up a sign as an outward and visible sign of this inward and spiritual grace, to indicate that we are disciples of the Lord, having love for one another…and by extension for every other who joins us? Is that what "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" means?
Well, it might. Welcoming the stranger and the 'other' may indeed be a sign that we love one another, and signs like, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" might be appropriate.
But suppose that was not enough. Suppose sometimes people have not felt welcome in the Episcopal Church. Certainly we know this has been true. At one time or another people of color, women, children, disabled people, gay or lesbian people, and sometimes conservatives or progressives have found themselves uncomfortable, unwelcomed and unloved in an Episcopal Church. Even I, beloved of you all, have experienced the sense of not being welcome in visiting another church.
Maybe then other signs sometimes need to be posted: The Rainbow is one such sign. Here is one version of it: the Anglican Communion as a rainbow compass rose. This is from a button by episcopal designs:
The real hope in the Rainbow symbol that makes the rounds in several forms, is its signal that all people are welcome. At one or another time a particular part of the rainbow of people have found this symbol particularly hopeful. It has been a symbol of hope in a wide range of circumstances – for a peoples party in Ann Arbor, for a vision of God's people in the mind of Bishop Tutu, for an alliance in Chicago for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, for wider acceptance of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people, and on and on. So, perhaps we can put the rainbow on the posts, as a sign that EVERYONE is welcome here.
All of this is, of course, about getting people to join us. The signs are to show that "they can tell we are Christians by our love" and that they might want to join us. And so they might.
Let's remember however, that the blood on the door posts of the houses of the Israelites in Egypt was not to invite, but to proclaim and protect - to say Israelites here, don't plague us. Too often that is what we think of the signs that proclaim our loving one another as Christians, or even as Episcopalians. It proclaims that we love one another, and that love becomes our protection against the plagues that swirls around our house of worship, our church.
Remember, the Passover was the last Supper before the exodus into wilderness, and the Last Supper was likewise the exit into the wilderness after the execution of Jesus.
The Israelites could not put up a sign saying "The Israelite community welcomes you." No one would have been much impressed. They were, after all, slaves. Besides, they were on the lam, leaving the next morning for the wilderness.
The disciples at the Last Supper could not very well put up a sign saying, "The Jesus community welcomes you." They were an illegal association whose leader was about to face the consequences. Their members were to be in denial and afraid. The followers were to be in exile, as are we all, until Jesus comes again.
Just as the Jews celebrate the Passover as a feast of their liberation in that first Passover, so we too celebrate the Eucharist as a celebration of our liberation in the events that follow on the Last Supper.
In both cases we are peoples in exile until the completion of all things in God. The question is, out there in the wilderness, what sort of sign can we have of our love for one another? We have no home here (the Church is a temporary shelter in the storm.) We are in the midst of the storm, and out in the wilderness, along with everyone else.
We have a teacher, Jesus Christ, who has asked us to be a sign of his love for us in our love for one another in the bleak wilderness days to come. I don't think this about getting people to join us in the Church, although that is a fine thing.
The New Commandment, illustrated in the washing of feet, was about ourselves in exile, getting invited in to the homes and meeting places of all the world. The hope is that people will see in our love for one another some sign that we are trustworthy – that if we care for one another this way, that we care for them too in this way. Perhaps if they know of our love for others in the wilderness, for them, and trust that, perhaps they will invite us in.
So we post a sign on ourselves – our love for others. Or we post a sign – a rainbow, a cross, something on ourselves that says we love more than we actually know how. And perhaps, out here in the wilderness, they will say, "Ah, Christians, come in!" maybe even "Ah, Episcopalians, you are welcome here."
If we outdo one another in acts of loving kindness, of affection and graceful care, perhaps the word will get around…those Christians, (those Episcopalians) are true to their Lord's commandment.
I am sorry to say, but you know this already, that we have not been so very good at loving one another in ways that are inclusive. We are working on love across race and culture, but we are not there yet. We are working on loving women and men both, young and old both, gay and straight, but we are not there yet. We have hardly even tried to express the inclusive love of those of other religions. And we better get on it. Where we have failed to love completely, as our Lord loved, there is scandal and injustice. We know that, every bit as much as we know our falling short of the vision of love that our Lord showed.
Sometimes people seem to know that we are Christians precisely because we are not very good at this loving business. They say, 'Ah, those Christians talk a good line, but look at their cruelty towards one another and in the world."
Still, there is hope, for Our Lord did not give a command that could not be lived out. We can be turned around. We can love more than we know how. It involves practice.
If we practice the love our Lord had for us, and practice that among ourselves and with others – the stranger, the excluded, the beaten down and the outcast – after a while "they will know we are Christians (and maybe even Episcopalians) by our love."
So here is a small Maundy Thursday hope: In addition to "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" signs, we may be such signs of God's love for the world in Jesus Christ that people we don't even know will put signs in their windows, or on their lawns (right next to the security protection sign) that say, "Christians (or maybe even Episcopalians) welcomed here."
In the wilderness, "until Christ comes again" we want to be invited in to the homes and lives of others, where the love we have for one another can be a sign of the love we will have for our hosts in the world and in the wilderness until the prayer "Come, Lord Jesus" is realized.