These are some lecture notes from a course I taught in a diaconal ministry program.
"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."
This acclamation points to the centrality of our faith. We would not call God Father without Jesus inviting us to do so. We would not identify Jesus' Spirit from other spooks and powers without his giving the Spirit to the church. And surely, at the center of all of this is his rejection, crucifixion, death, burial, and then the great message given to the women at the tomb that he is not dead but lives. Of all the great deeds of God throughout history and again to the end of ages, this is the greatest act of God the Father. Death is an enemy of the God of Israel. For in Sheol who will give you praise? Can these bones live? When faced with nothing, God speaks and the world comes is created. Thus, there is a deep link between the gift of the Sabbath and the love of God in Jesus’ cross. Death and all of its accompanying powers and conspirators usurp the gift of time. Death takes away time, it hinges and oppresses and most of all, stops short creatures.
So when we gather at the Vigil of Easter or at Good Friday, we do not do so to listen just about these ancient deeds of God but we do so to be a part of them. We do not come together on Good Friday wondering if Jesus is dead. We tell each other and the world the story of Jesus’ death. Telling the story about Jesus’ death differs from the way it went the first time because we tell the story with the view towards the end of the story. If Jesus hadn't been raised, I doubt this story of his death would matter much at all except one more victim in the annals of terrible victims. One more failure in the face of the God of Israel. Think of the reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg. What would its character be if other events were different? Or rather, it would have taken on other characteristics if it were a rout of the North by the South.
There are a few aspects of this that matter for our discussion. We say in the Vigil that "This is the night" We commemorate this night as the night Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection is a different sort of event than that of his death. That Jesus died, no one doubts. But Jesus’ resurrection is not an event like other events such as a car wash or a handshake. Instead, it is the one event that gives hope and gives space for faith. Just as the Sabbath gives us time and freedom from labor, the message of Jesus’ resurrection brings us to live and love with the Crucified One.
In other words, we have access to past events only insofar as they bear on Jesus raised from the dead. We cannot therefore claim the event of crucifixion as having this or that meaning without the subsequent resurrection just as we cannot have the resurrection without looking back to the cross. We may make sense of the cross but its sense for God and God’s action in it depend entirely on the challenge it presents for God and therefore what God does with it. Why does God abandon his Son? What is it for? Without Easter we cannot begin to answer these things. We cannot replace God in the position of Friday so what good would it do for us to do so? If we were to do that, then the Easter acquires a position beyond the cross and Jesus' death rather than bringing us back to Jesus' cross.
There is an additional difference between the very night of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigils whose fast we keep. That difference involves our being assembled into Jesus' death, being crucified with him. And therefore we wait with Jesus and his promise in silence of a sort, waiting for resurrection. The Vigil of Easter as a celebration therefore differs from the very first one because we honor the identity of Jesus' death with our own and while we live towards that death we are given, in our silence and waiting, the promise of being raised with him.
Holy Saturday is indeed the ultimate baptismal day.