Lent is a time of Preparation
1. Concerning baptism, baptise thus: Having first rehearsed all these things, "Baptise, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost in running water;
2. But if thou hast no running water, baptise in other water, and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm.
3. But if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head "in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost."
4. And before the baptism let the baptiser and him who is to be baptised fast, and any others who are able. And thou shalt bid him who is to be baptised to fast one or two days before. (Part VII of the Didache, circa the First Century.)
I laughed when I read the part about baptizing in warm water if you don’t have cold water! At Immanuel, we make an effort to pour hot water into the “ewer” from which I will pour water into the Baptismal Font. We do this because the Rite of Holy Baptism comes before the Prayer of the Church which means the water is going to cool. Warm water pouring over the head of a baby feels like the bath that they are used to. We have forgotten and used cold water. The effect on the baby is immediate. I get the precious moment of surprise on the baby as his/her eyes open wide and the air is drawn deeply into the lungs. The entire congregation gets to share the cry that follows when that surprise is released into a wail of shock and tears. All I can say is, “welcome to the Baptismal Life dear one.”
The Didache is neither scripture nor a creed. It informs us about how the early church taught and acted. I am not bound by its instruction although it is informative and to be respected. It is interesting that the least preferred option of pouring water on the head would become the norm for the church. The author(s) of the Didache would prefer that we baptize in the Kalamazoo River! Maybe someday…
Why do you suppose that cold water was preferred for Baptism? Especially, why was cold, running (or living) water preferred?
My best answer looks to the connection of Lent with the practice of Baptism. The early church developed a year long process of instruction to prepare new believers for baptism. This is also the reason why we have a series of Scripture texts read each Sunday throughout the year. By attending worship each week, those preparing to be baptized would hear all of the core texts needed to begin a functional life in the Christian faith.
The baptism was done during the Saturday evening “Vigil of Easter.” When Sunday morning arrived, the newly baptized, having died to death in their baptisms awoke to new life in Christ just as Christ was rising from death to life on Easter morning. All celebrated the Resurrection!
That made Lent a time of final preparation for baptism. We associate Lent with penitence and renewal of our faith. But Lent was also a time of preparation for a life of faith. It did include penitence, fasting, self-denial and all that we associate with a time of renewal. But it also had a direction toward something new and different— a life transformed by baptism.
I think that is why the Didache preferred baptism by immersion (3 times) in cold running water! The Romans had baths. This was not one of those. This was very different. This was the final lesson of faith at the end of Lent. Yes, this new life was different and came with the promise of the defeat of death and the beginning of new life. But life in Christ wasn’t going to be easy and you were going to remember every second of that new beginning. Your eyes were going open and you were going to breathe deeply and when you came out of the water you were going to remember what happened the rest of your life. “Welcome to the Baptismal life, dear one…”