Two years ago today, I walked down the aisle of my hometown church in North Carolina in a white wedding dress . . . and washed my husband’s feet.
I anticipate some raised eyebrows right about now, perhaps even some recoiling in disgust. How awkward, how distasteful, for a moment that’s meant to be so sacred—and so photographed! The apostle Peter had a similar reaction when on the night before his Lord’s crucifixion, Jesus rolled up his tunic, bent down, and raised a washcloth to his feet. “Lord, why are you washing my feet?” Peter asked, embarrassed. Jesus responded, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me.” Continuing on to John 13:12 . . .
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
Yes, that’s right. Eric and I chose John 13 as our wedding text. Not 1 Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”), and not Ephesians 5 (husbands lead, wives submit). Instead of centering the ceremony on the words of Paul, we wanted to center it on the words of Jesus—on his message of radical, self-emptying love. Although the context of this passage does not speak directly to the husband-wife relationship (it extends much farther than that), we found in it a picture, a standard, of what we want to aspire to in our marriage.
My commitment was and is this: to always put Eric’s needs above my own; to actually bend down and exert myself to meet those needs, risking personal discomfort or disadvantage in doing so; to be humble and tender always; to never think myself greater or more worthy than him; and to simply serve him in love at all times.
Eric washed my feet too. In fact, he went first; he initiated—a picture of his commitment to lead us both in the way of Christ.
I do believe that God has assigned specific roles in marriage which are for the best interests of both parties and for God’s greatest glory, and that in matters in which consensus cannot be reached, the wife has the duty to defer to the husband. But I am disappointed that Ephesians 5:21, which actually introduces the marriage portion of that chapter, is so often omitted from wedding ceremonies in favor of more complementarian (read: hierarchical) emphases: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” it says. Instead of getting hung up on what follows, why not start by embodying this command that’s laid out up front? That in itself will prevent a whole host of issues.
Husbands and wives are spiritual equals; neither is higher than the other. Both are called to love and respect each other, just as Christ loves and respects his church, and as his church loves and respects him. Both are called to place himself/herself under the other.
Foot-washing was my and Eric’s visual reminder of this calling; it was our own special sacrament, which we celebrated before God on June 25, 2010.
After Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he told them to do as he did, and that if they did, they would be blessed. What a promise! I definitely have been blessed in my marriage, and I believe that is due in part to our embracing of the servant-love that Christ demonstrated in John 13. Our execution is, no doubt, imperfect, but Christ’s Spirit has given us the power and grace to follow through.
The world says that it’s backwards and degrading for a woman to ever submit to a man, but I’ve been finding that there is a purpose and a beauty and an honor to it within marriage. Submission is a Christ-like posture; why wouldn’t I be happy to assume it? Especially when I know that my husband loves me and has vowed to put my interests above his own in all the decisions we make.
I love you, Eric! Thanks for being such a strong and selfless leader, and for showing me every day how much you love me, by following the example that Christ left us at the Last Supper.