BACK IN THE FOURTH CENTURY, our friend Egeria took a long trip to the Holy Land and wrote back to her sisters in northwestern Spain about everything she saw along the way, especially how people in Jerusalem observed the church’s festivals. (Scholars and liturgists just love Egeria.) What was Easter like when Egeria was there? Maybe what she saw can be helpful for us, too.
Easter—rather, the late-night Easter Vigil service—was the time for baptisms in Jerusalem back in the late 300s when Egeria visited. The catechumens had been taught the basics of the faith and something about the baptismal service, mostly along the lines of stand here, wear this, sit over there.
They weren’t taught about the meaning of the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion until after they had experienced them. And so, beginning on Easter Monday and all through Easter Week, the new Christians, wearing their white baptismal robes, gathered every morning to hear their bishop explain the sacraments.
Cheering and applause
Egeria says the bishop was interrupted over and over again as he taught—by cheering and applause! (When’s the last time you applauded a sermon?)
Egeria wrote back to her sisters that Bishop Cyril preached in Greek. But not everyone in the assembly understood Greek. So Syriac and Latin interpreters stood there alongside the bishop passing on what he said so that everyone could understand. (Those were the main languages in use in that place and time.)
That caught my attention—that the early church in Jerusalem made sure that everyone could understand, no matter what language they spoke.
Do you have more than one language represented in your congregation? How do you make sure everyone can understand? Some congregations print service leaflets with the texts printed side by side in each language. That’s one solution.
Bishop Cyril didn’t have that choice—most people were illiterate in any language anyway, so a printed (well, hand-copied) service leaflet wouldn’t have been of any use.
And so the church in Jerusalem had interpreters with the bishop to translate and re-communicate on the fly. (Some scholars suggest that Cyril’s lectures—some of which survive—were short because every phrase had to be spoken aloud three times.) Egeria had surely encountered other teams of speakers and interpreters during her travels across the Roman empire, so this wouldn’t have been a surprise to her.
Making room for different languages
I really like the idea of the early church simply making room for different languages. Maybe as one interpreter spoke, Cyril and the other interpreter would think about Acts 2:6-12, when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ followers and gave them the power to be understood in different languages. That was the first gift of Pentecost, the gift of translation and interpretation for the sake of understanding.
So this Easter Season, whenever you hear a language other than your own, think of what Egeria saw and heard in Jerusalem. Making room for different languages as the church in Jerusalem did so long ago is a way of carrying on the Holy Spirit’s work. Thanks be to God!
Audrey Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA. Feature image from Canva Pro.
Ways to give
Women of the ELCA offers Spanish-language versions of many of its resources and publications. Your “Where Needed Most” gift helps support that ongoing work of translation. Please think of Egeria and the interpreters in Jerusalem and give generously.
Make out your check to Women of the ELCA and write “Where Needed Most” on the memo line. Then please mail it to:
Women of the ELCA
c/o ELCA Gift Processing
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield VA 22116
Please visit welca.org/give.