One of my favorite parts of a wedding ceremony is the commitment ceremony or ritual that the couple incorporates. Beyond the vows, this special moment reveals something intimate about how the couple interacts and what they believe, and it often sets the stage for their marriage. The commitment ceremony is often a symbol of unity and coming together, and this is often represented by a unity candle or sand ceremony. While these are beautiful symbols of two lives joining together as one, my husband and I went an alternative route for our own commitment ceremony, and I wouldn’t change that moment for the world. In front of all our friends and family, we took turns kneeling before each other and washing our new spouse’s feet.
The idea of a foot washing during a ceremony may surprise or confuse people, but it can be a beautiful, tasteful representation of commitment to each other and to God. The ceremony itself comes from Christian origins, but despite its place in history, I had a surprisingly difficult time finding information on the practice when deciding to include it in our wedding ceremony. Our officiant encouraged us to edit the base text that he would read while we got married, but because he had never officiated a wedding with a foot washing, he didn’t have text for it. I wanted to explain to guests – including my Jewish grandmother – what the ceremony meant to us and why we decided to do it, and sharing that text with you is the best way I can continue to explain this special moment.
"As we close the ceremony, Matthew and Stephanie have chosen to wash one another’s feet as a sign of their love and service to one another. In John 13, Jesus "got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him."
"There is a mountain of meaning behind this action. The feet of those twelve men were caked with the dust of daily travels. The job of washing feet was reserved for the slave of the home. Yet, in striking fashion, Jesus – the one who spoke galaxies into existence – dons the towel of a poor slave and wipes the muddied feet of his friends. What a display of love – a love that would bend as low as necessary to lift up, a love that would enter into the mess so it could make things once again clean. This is what Jesus not only does for us, but what he calls us to do for one another – to love by serving and humbling ourselves.
"As Matthew and Stephanie enter into this new relationship, this act symbolizes their commitment to honor, respect, and serve each other. It is a vow to always remain in a humble position – to lift up the other, even at great cost. It is a reminder to love and serve like Jesus has so greatly loved and served us – even and especially in the mud and muck of life. It communicates that each will allow their spouse to help them during those difficult times, through prayer and partnership."
Once our officiant finished speaking, our ceremony musicians began singing the worship song “Ever Be” as we walked to the side of the altar and began. First, I sat in the chair set aside for that purpose, while my husband knelt before me, fumbled with the clasps of my shoes, dipped a cloth into a bowl of water, and gently washed my feet. Deciding not to make him try and figure out my shoes again, I giggled and told him to leave them be. We switched places as I tossed his boots and socks to the side and did the same for him, kissing the top of his foot before we stood together and returned to the center of the altar, barefoot, to be announced as husband and wife.
The moment was intimate, romantic, emotional and powerful. As One Flesh Marriage Ministries puts it:
Washing your wife’s / husband’s feet:
Says I love you.
Shows that you honor and respect your spouse.
Demonstrates a humility of heart and character, kneeling before your spouse.
Communicates “I will be here for you through the muck and mud of life”.
Places you in a position of prayer (on your knees), a great place to be in marriage.
Having your feet washed:
Says you are loved
Shows you can receive your spouses support, and won’t “go it alone”
Communicates, “I will let you help me”
Places you in a position of power, which we need to remember we hold, so we don’t abuse it!
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