This weekend, we had the wonderful experience of attending a wedding - our second this summer. Something happened during this wedding that probably went unnoticed by some, and those that did catch it probably didn't ascribe much meaning to it, but it sure inspired us.
The officiant, as most pastors do, mentioned during his wedding message that marriage is a relationship that is based, in part, on sacrificial service to one another. Sometimes, the mere comment related to service is all the topic gets in a wedding. Other times, the wedding couple, acutely aware of how important and foundational a heart of service is to a marriage, intentionally incorporate a symbol of it in the ceremony. The first wedding we attended this summer, for example, included a foot washing. In Scripture, John 13 shows us the birth of this practice. As Jesus prepares to go to his death on the cross, he washes the feet of his disciples - a symbol of the incredible and cleansing act of sacrificial service he was about to accomplish. The foot washing in a wedding ceremony, therefore, not only honors Christ's sacrifice but serves as a declaration by the couple of their commitment to spurring one another on toward Christlikeness through sacrificial service of their own.
This past weekend's wedding included no foot washing in the ceremony. There was no ritual or practice that broadly communicated their intent to serve one another. And yet, for those who were watching closely, the natural outpouring of their actions demonstrated clearly the positions of their hearts toward one another.
Weddings are often cruelly organized, geographically speaking. The couple usually faces away from the audience for at least half of the thing, which is disappointing for us, since they're the stars of the show we came to see. Then, when they do end up facing each other, they usually start crying, if they haven't been crying since the beginning. The Maid or Matron of Honor almost always has tissues (this is like MoH 101) - but now she can't see the bride and the bride can't see her! This was the circumstance the beautiful and joyous bride found herself in on Saturday. As her dutiful and definitely on-the-ball Matron of Honor reached out to, subtly as she could, pass off a tissue, the bride had no idea. Now, this is where things got interesting.
There are a couple of different ways the groom could have reacted to this. He could have been so absorbed in his powerful love/excitement/expectation/nervousness/sudden-awareness-that-he-hasn't-peed-in-hours-and-he's-been-knocking-back-whole-water-bottles-like-tequila-shots-to-keep-his-throat-lubricated-in-preparation-for-his-imminent-vows that he just completely didn't notice. Or, concerned about potentially interrupting the ceremony or appearing awkward to the guests, he could have lightly squeezed her hand and nodded in the direction of the Matron of Honor. His bride is a bright young woman, she would have gotten the idea. But, instead, he stepped across the hearth and took the tissue himself, and he wiped away his very-nearly-wife's tears.
Less than a minute later, the bride took the opportunity to repay the act of service her almost-husband had shown her. She straightened his bowtie. Again, while this may be as subtle an act of service as they come, so many things came to light for me in that instant. First, she was really seeing him, and was present in the moment with him. Second, she wasn't just busying herself with him. It was clear from her face that she wasn't annoyed because he looked somehow disheveled and she thought it reflected poorly on them both. Also, I know the groom fairly well. He's a stylish guy. Cuts a tux pretty well. I imagine it'd be important to him to look good on his wedding day. So, not only was she focused on him, and not doing this because it was particularly important to her, but (third) she was doing it because it would be important to him .
During the reception, we had occasion to mention a couple of times that many engaged couples are just desperately trying not to screw it up. But this young couple wanted so fiercely to be engaged well, and that was never more evident to me than it was in that small, but powerful moment of transition between engagement and marriage. They were an example and reminder to us of what engagement is and should be for: setting a foundation. They chose to serve each other so early on in their married life that they actually began before they even were married. We pray that they continue to be and grow as an example of sacrificial service to us all.