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A tug-of-war with the communion loaf


The Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia uses humor to tell a truth about our worries among God’s great extravagance

August 11, 2023

A trio of children read from Psalm 121 as part of Tuesday worship. The third day of the 2023 Presbyterian Association of Musicians Worship & Music Conference included worship, classes, ensembles, lectures and more at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina on June 20, 2023.

Children; brass, rhythm and string instruments; and communion all found their way into worship at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference.

Children contributed by reading portions of Psalm 121. Musicians did their part by accompanying “To the Hills I Lift My Eyes,” which Dr. Eric Wall, serving as cantor, sang in Korean.

Conference preacher the Rev. Larissa Kong Abazia used John 4:15–26 for her preaching text. She led with a story about her young son, who once leapt to his feet when it was the family’s turn to get in line to take communion at church. Taking his cues from the adults in front of him, the 6-year-old tore a tiny crumb of bread from the loaf. The pastor told the boy to “take a piece of bread as big as God’s love for you.”

At this point, worshipers gathered in Anderson Auditorium knew where Kwong Abazia’s story was going and began snickering.

The Rev. Kendra Buckwalter Smith pours the juice Tuesday during communion. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“He tore into the bread and started a tug of war, breaking off a huge chunk of the loaf,” his mother said. An even bigger smile crossed the boy’s face as he got his cup of grape juice “and bounded back to our pew.”

“How many times do we pull off only a crumb of bread?” Kwong Abazia wondered. “There’s an abundance in scarcity, isn’t there, even at the communion table.”

Kwong Abazia speculated on the timing the Samaritan woman chose to head to the well. “She’s missing out on the social capital of chatter and connection,” Kwong Abazia said. “Her solo journey means isolation.” It’s hot at the noon hour, and that means she’ll probably be alone.

Then she “stumbles into Christ, this man eager to be served by her. … I can imagine her sighing with exhaustion, realizing her plan is thwarted by someone — and a presumptuous someone, too.”

A brass ensemble was featured several times during Tuesday morning worship. The third day of the 2023 Presbyterian Association of Musicians Worship & Music Conference included worship, classes, ensembles, lectures and more at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Yet she finds Jesus “a worthy conversation partner — not a teacher but a companion in the discussion.” She doesn’t ask how he knows about her. Jesus calls out her lifestyle and offers her living water.

It’s a story about a smart, strong, savvy woman, according to Kwong Abazia, a woman who crosses boundaries to encounter Jesus in a real way. “Their conversation gives witness to water on the move, a spring of water gushing up to resurrection and eternal life,” she said. “When we arrive, all we can do is crack open our vulnerability and engage what we behold.”

Then Kwong Abazia told a second story on her son: she was standing next to her son as their 3-year-old rolled around on the floor of the narthex. People had to step over him to enter the sanctuary.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” a woman exclaimed.

“I wanted to scream, ‘What? Nothing about this is wonderful,” Kwong Abazia said.

“What a gift,” the woman said. “Your son feels so comfortable here he can move his body as he needs to.”

At that moment, “I was met at the well,” Kwong Abazia said. “I realized I needed a companion along the way. This woman illustrated God’s abundant love for me when I could not. She celebrated him as he was and saw in him what I could not.”

“His rolling about felt to me like a foretaste of the judgment to come,” she said. “I was holding my breath so tightly I didn’t have room for the Holy Spirit to move in my being. ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ Yes — surely through her words, I could see it was so.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia uses humor during her message at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Kirstie Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Director’s Office, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Melissa Johnson, Mission co-worker, Zambia, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious God, you are always faithful. Thank you for sharing your vision of how a church can flourish. Help us to reach out to those in our community who need support and a connection with you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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