After winter’s barren darkness, the return of life and light remind us of God’s grace

Written by Sarah Emtage

I was born on Resurrection Sunday, and spring has always been my favourite season. Every spring the reign of the White Witch is broken. Every spring sap runs, ice melts, and green stars sprout from earth and tree. Every spring the days lengthen and the birds return. Every spring I feel the kindness of a warm wind waking up the world. Those who live near the equator don’t experience spring like this. Spring is only possible because winter happens first.

Back in November, I was talking with other poets at a monthly open mic about how the event often has an unintentional theme. We speculated about whether one would emerge that night. The very first poem shared was called Funeral. In the pieces that followed, grief and loss were often an undercurrent. Some spoke of death more generally, but a notable number of poems were written directly in memory of loved ones who had passed. Jane MacDonald, a regular attendee with close-cropped grey hair and a straightforward manner, shared a poem with the line: “November is the month the veil thins.”

This got me thinking about the ways November makes us more aware of our mortality. The increasing cold and decreasing light set the scene, and All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead, and Remembrance Day are all reminders of those who have passed before us. Later that week my friends and I recalled how the older generation in our church was getting frailer. In particular, I was aware I had a limited time with my 93-year-old friend Barbara. I was treasuring what time we had left. A few days later she was in the hospital again. I called to see if I could visit her and was told that she was sleeping and her daughters were with her. That night she went to be with the Lord.

I first got to know Barbara on our church retreat in the fall of 2019. I wandered outside during free time and found this jovial old German lady among the fallen leaves at the firepit. We started talking. I shared a silly poem with her, and she laughed, and we became friends. During the Covid lockdowns, she got in touch with me by finding my parents’ landline in the phonebook. After that we spoke on the phone from time to time, and when our church was able to meet in person again, we talked before and after the service.

Her eyesight was limited, but I always felt very seen and understood by her. I would say “Hey Barbara, this is Sarah,” to make sure she knew it was me. She’d respond “Oooh Sarah!” with a throaty chuckle of recognition and held my hands in hers as we talked. I remember her telling me with sorrow that she had lashed out at hospital staff because she was disoriented and thought she was being held prisoner. She told me about how she cried out to God from that darkness and received peace. I was often humbled by her humility. Barbara never stopped dying to her old self and letting God remake her.

At Barbara’s funeral, I watched the photo slideshow to get a glimpse of the decades she lived before I knew her. The most iconic pictures were of Barbara diving. They ranged from a recognizable middle-aged Barbara diving into a Canadian lake, and sepia-toned images of her as a young girl diving into a German pool with Nazi flags in the background. I started realizing how much of her life was a mystery to me. In the reception room they had beautiful paintings and sculptures on display that Barbara had made. I had not even known she was an artist. I wish I had asked her more about her life.

I learned more about Barbara from the family and friends gathered to grieve for her. I saw the impact of her love on everyone there. We were all united in our sadness at her loss, but there was one distinction that became clear to me. There was a difference between those who shared Barbara’s hope for resurrection and those who did not. Those who did not share this hope could only find comfort in memory. Those who did share it had comfort in the certainty of meeting again. We all wept in the winter of our grief, but we did not all know spring was coming.

Easter is the story of why we have this hope, and it is also a story that begins with death.

It is the story of God made flesh, descending into our grief and suffering and submitting to the most humiliating and painful kind of death. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV). He did all this so that we can have life and have it abundantly.

I am not a diver like Barbara was. I admire the boldness it takes to plunge head first into something, but I can hardly imagine pushing through the instinct of self preservation. It strikes me as an action of self surrender. In his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis uses the image of a diver to illustrate Christ’s descent into humanity and death. He describes a diver “rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover.”

We are the precious thing Jesus came down to recover. He died to kill death and bring us back with him into new life. Spring reverberates with the triumph of this truth. Every sprouting seed tells the story of the resurrection. Every instance of returning warmth, light, and life is a tangible reminder of God’s grace. November comes first, but it is not the end. The phoenix burns to ashes, but it rises again. This year my birthday coincides with Easter Sunday again. I will be celebrating in anticipation of the life to come, while Barbara celebrates in the fulfilment of it. I picture her in all her joy and trust and the fullness of what God made her to be, diving headfirst into the river of life.

Sarah Emtage is a poet, playwright, sculptor, and library technician in Kingston, Ont. She is currently keeping a spider plant alive. You can find her work at