One of my staff colleagues married one of our parishioners this past weekend. They chose a Gospel passage I had never before experienced at a wedding:
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
My friends used the full Holy Thursday gospel, if I recall. I’m not sure if I would include Peter’s protest or not. On one hand it seems to distract from the main theme as carried over into Christian marriage: following the example of Jesus in serving one’s spouse. On the other, we shouldn’t be afraid of misunderstanding and blundering about, especially on very critical matters like service and humility.
Is there a concern with borrowing a text from one of Christendom’s highest holy days? I wondered about that at first. We often use another passage from the Paschal Triduum for Christian marriage, so no, I don’t think using this Gospel is really too problematic.
Not every couple has a sense of service to one another, the practice of going humbly and washing the beloved’s feet, even if Jesus did give the example. Few enough couples express the expanded sense of service my friends do–they went on a retreat about six weeks ago to discern how they would serve in the Church as a married couple. In that context, John 13 makes a lot of sense as a reading for a marriage liturgy.
What was interesting is that the couple also washed one another’s feet after the exchange of vows and rings. I’ve heard that being done once or twice, but I’ve never witnessed it. It sure made a lot more sense to me than unity sand/candle. Scriptural. Traditional. Meaningful. Something to think about.
Should you, humble reader, go off the script and suggest that your priest or deacon preach this as a wedding Gospel? I can’t answer that. I would say that I hope it wouldn’t be the start of a fad. Imitating Christ is extremely serious business. I think good marriages do imitate the Lord. Many of them give outstanding example in that regard. But the humility of the basin and towel leads to the way of the cross. Are you prepared for that way?