Notice that this is not the response of the crowd, those who happen to show up out of curiosity about this Jesus. These are the words, not of the casual or uncommitted, but of the ones who have given their lives over to following Jesus. They have believed in him and given up much in order to be his disciples. Now Jesus tells them that he knows that some among them do not believe that he has come down from heaven, that he will return, and that his words are spirit and life. John’s gospel says, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
If we are honest, each of us has to admit that we have had times of wondering if our faith is real, if it makes any difference in the course of our lives or in the lives of those we love or in the life of the world. When our children suffer, when relationships fail, when families are broken, when life doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, when we are disappointed in people we love—in such times we look for God, we long for God’s presence, and we have difficulty seeing God or feeling God with us. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we lose our faith or that we renounce our belief, but it can make it easier for us to think that going to church is not that important, that giving or trying to help doesn’t matter much, or that praying doesn’t really make a difference. We can become like the disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.
But there is hope in the scene John describes. There is courage and faith. After many others have walked away, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks, “Will you also go away?” Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Why are they able to keep the faith, to stay with Jesus? They are not “better” than the others. The difference is that they stay focused on Jesus. They keep themselves in his presence.
How can we do this? By accepting and embracing one of the great gifts of our faith as Episcopalians—the real presence of Christ in the sacraments. Come to church. Participate in the Eucharist. Eat the bread, and drink the wine. Let Christ be in you. Certainly, God is present in all of creation. Our worship together is the primary way in which we keep ourselves present to God.