First, a quick review. The chapter began on a high note. Starting with only a few loaves and fishes, Jesus miraculously fed a multitude.
Over the next couple of weeks, Jesus explained that he himself was the true bread come down from heaven, the true bread of life. That is good news, but it was a little hard for some people to take.
Finally, last week and again this week, Jesus tells people to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We understand that sacramentally, and we will shortly follow his command when we share Eucharist.
Still, for most people even today, this is getting a little graphic. Two thousand years ago, when people did not understand him sacramentally, when people thought he might be talking literally, they reacted with shock and dismay. As we just heard, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And, John tells us, “because of this, many [even] of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
We’ll come back to the ones who left Jesus in a minute. But first we need to hear from the ones who stayed. Jesus asks Peter and the other apostles, “Do you also wish to go away?”
This is a real question. Peter and the apostles were surely scandalized by Jesus’ teaching, just like all those disciples who abandoned Jesus. Peter and the other apostles must have been tempted to leave too.
But Peter and the others don’t leave. They don’t leave because they know they have nowhere else to go. Peter says as much. “Lord, to whom can we go?” After all, Jesus is “the Holy One of God.”
And even in this difficult moment, Peter knows that he needs the words of eternal life, the words Christ has, the words Christ shares.
Peter is saying, not for the first or the last time, “Jesus, I don’t like what you are saying. But I know these are the words of eternal life even when I struggle with them.”
Peter may not be happy. But he knows that Jesus’ words can bring him closer to God somehow, that life is better with Jesus than without Jesus. And so Peter stays close, even when it is hard.
Now, fast forward two thousand years. Our challenges are different than Peter’s. But we know where Peter is coming from.
God sometimes shocks and scandalizes us, just like Jesus shocked and scandalized Peter that day. We are shocked and scandalized by the things God allows to happen. And we want to know why. People routinely ask me, why does God do that? Or, why doesn’t God prevent that?
Just this week, I have been asking myself the same question. God, why is the world the way it is? God, why do the things that happen happen?
And I do not know the answer.
When something bad happens—I don’t mean every time, but when something bad really hits me—it is like Jesus is saying to me, “Do you also wish to go away?” And sometimes, I want to answer, yes. Yes, I do. I do wish to go away.
But there is always Peter’s question. “Lord, to whom would I go?” We might get angry at God. But it is not like there is a better option out there. It is not like we can find life apart from the God we know in Jesus Christ.
As Peter says, Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus is the Holy One of God. And even when we do not understand why something happens, we know that life is better and richer and fuller with Jesus than without Jesus. Life is better and richer and fuller with God than without God.
In fact, we need God the most precisely when we are struggling the most. It is when we do not understand that we especially have to turn again to the one who has the words of eternal life. It is when we are hurting that we especially need to hear again the good news that God is with us, that Christ loves and redeems us, that the Holy Spirit empowers us to get through even the hardest times.
When we hurt, the best thing we can do is pray, and share Eucharist, and study Scripture, and generally do whatever we have to do to draw a little closer to the one who has the words of eternal life, who accompanies us in our pain, who, over time, heals our pain by swallowing it up in love.
That is what Peter does when he stays. That is the invitation of our gospel reading to those of us who may be hurting right now. Hear again the words of eternal life.
But what about all those other disciples in our gospel reading, the ones who can’t take it, the ones for whom the scandal is too much, the ones who do leave? We don’t know anything about them except that, in this moment, they cut themselves off from the one who has the words of eternal life.
And I think about a startling statistic. Suicide rates have been steadily climbing in the United States for the last several years. There are doubtless lots of reasons. But in a recent newspaper article, psychology professor Clay Routledge pointed to one that is relevant for us. Routledge says, “In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.”
Routledge is a secular psychologist. But what he is saying connects directly to our gospel reading. People need the words of eternal life. People need to know the Holy One of God. People need the good news.
But, for whatever reason, many do what those other disciples in our reading do. They reject the Holy One of God. They reject the words of eternal life. And for some, the result is a life without meaning or significance.
I get that. As I say, I have sometimes wished to go away. At points in my life, I have gone away. Thank God—I mean that literally—God has brought me back. The Holy One of God has reminded me of the words of eternal life.
And now it is my job, it is our job, to share those words with others, to help others find the sense of meaning and purpose that comes from knowing Jesus Christ, from answering God’s call, from living as God’s people.
Our Diocese is sponsoring a revival this year. We are still working out the details of what an Episcopal revival looks like. But this much is clear: it means hearing Christ’s words of eternal life and helping others to hear them too.
And so, even at the end of a tough week, I give thanks to God for helping us to hear the words of eternal life. I give thanks to God for the invitation to share those words with others. And I pray that we can hear and share as God invites us to do. In the name of God’s Holy One. Amen.
 “Suicides Have Increased. Is This an Existential Crisis?” New York Times, June 23, 2018.