Between sunset on Holy Saturday evening and sunrise on Easter Sunday, the Easter Vigil is celebrated. I have spent the Holy Days, the three days leading up to Easter, with the Benedictine monks in Schuyler many times. The prayers and chants are the most beautiful of the liturgical year.
The Easter Vigil readings begin with the Book of Genesis—the story of creation when heaven and earth, darkness and light, water and sky, land, plants, animals, birds, fish, and humans were created—and continue through New Testament readings. Between each of the several readings is a Psalm that is sung by cantor and congregation.
This year I spent the Holy Days listening to a different kind of song, the call of the Sandhill Crane. I missed the familiar chants of the monks, participating virtually when possible, but the experience of observing the oldest living birds feasting in the fields and wetlands of Nebraska was likewise a sacred experience.
The Sandhill Crane has used the Platte River Valley for some 10,000 to 12,000 years, following the end of the last ice age, as a layover on their migration to breeding grounds as far north as Alaska and Eastern Siberia. The sandbars on the Platte River provides rest and refuge for the crane and the farm and wetlands provide sustenance for the remainder of their journey.
I felt a connection to mystery, history, and deep time in the moments of sunrise and sunset listening to the call of the crane. Ancient and archetypal, the crane migration includes purposeful and challenging work, rest, socialization, sustenance, suffering, death, and new life.
The call of the crane is unforgettable, holy.
“High horns, low horns, silence and finally a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness… When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.”– Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy
Despite the Holy Days being celebrated differently this year, it was indeed a celebration—a celebration of the life/death/life cycle that we observe during the Holy Triduum. The readings of the Easter Vigil that start with the creation of the universe lead us through salvation history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Just as the Sandhill Cranes return year after year without exception, the Christ lives in us through our dark days and suffering, and in our creative migration to birth new life into our world. It is an ancient and timeless story.
Every year 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes—80 percent of all the cranes on the planet—congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska from mid-February until mid-April. For more information about the Sandhill Crane Migration:
For more Easter reading:
Love is Stronger, Human One—Easter from the perspective of Mary Magdalene, song by Alana Levandoski, Being Benedictine.
The Holy Triduum—Celebrate with the monks of Christ the King Priory, Being Benedictine.