The Gospel According to "Stronger": Unbinding Our Wounds

At the 2013 Boston Marathon, exploding bombs changed the lives of runners and observers around the world. The bombs killed three people, injured 260, and left many of the injured as amputees. Jeff Bauman, one of the victims, lost both of his legs as he cheered on his girlfriend from the finish line. His story of injury and recovery is the subject of the film, Stronger, in which Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Bauman.

Bauman's name first spread when a photograph of his rescue spread through media outlets. He became even more of a media darling when he provided the FBI with information that led them to one of the bombers. His name and photograph became synonymous with the cry of, "Boston Strong," that helped a broken city to heal.

The film, based on Bauman's memoir, takes the camera behind those headlines of resilience--to a normal man learning to live in a body that feels anything but normal to him. In one scene, medical staff changes Jeff's dressings for the first time. The film's director situates the camera behind Jeff's left shoulder, with his girlfriend, Erin, at his side. Their faces are close to the camera, and blurred in the distance are his amputated legs. An off-screen nurse warns him that this is the most painful part and tells him they can stop at any time. Another off-screen voice explains what he is doing with each minor movement of bandage removed from skin. Someone else gently tells Jeff he can look if he wants, but he doesn't have to do so.

Jeff chooses instead to look at Erin.

All the while, she says to him, "I'm not looking. I'm looking only at you. Look at me. I'm looking at you."

He screams in pain. There is a pause, and another voice asks if he wants to stop. Another tells him how good he is doing. How strong he is. Erin maintains a locked gaze on him. 

When they complete the dressing removal from one leg, there is great rejoicing, great praise for Jeff's endurance, words of reassurance that they're almost done.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
— John 11:44

We often hear that the least painful way to remove a bandage from a superficial cut is in one quick, sweeping motion. The unbinding of Jeff's wounds reminds us that healing has to be slow--and involves many voices, many hands, many eyes.

When Jesus commanded onlookers to unbind the resurrected Lazarus, it's easy for us 21st century readers to imagine a hub of excitement and dancing and celebration around the miracle man. But unbinding takes time. Unbinding requires intention so as not to further hurt the one who has been bound.

So it is with not only our physical injuries but also the hurts we carry in spirit and soul. So it is when our communities experience the damages of natural disaster. Recovery can be as painful as, or more painful than, the actual injury. Just as Jeff could not heal by himself, we need God and each other.

We need to fix our gaze on our Beloved, Jesus, who is guiding us with an ever watchful eye.

We need to heed the voice of the Holy Spirit walking us through recovery with the words of Scripture and in the community of faith.

[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
— Psalm 147:3

One of the toughest parts about that scene of Jeff's dressing changes was the knowing that he would have to go through it again. The caregivers would have to bind his wounds once again, and he would have to go through the process of unbinding all over again.

What a relief to know that the unbinding is not the end of the story.

Neither is the binding is the end of the story. 

The end of the story is healing. The end of the story is restoration. The end of the story is a strength uncovered only in the unbinding.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian