By Mark Ellis
President Barack Obama spoke to faith leaders gathered at the White House April 14th for the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, affirming his Christian faith and acknowledging his deep admiration for Pope Francis.
He began his remarks decrying the recent violence in Overland Park, Kansas that took the life of three innocents at Jewish facilities. He noted that two of the victims — a grandfather and his teenage grandson — attended the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, which is led by a pastor close to the president, Reverend Adam Hamilton.
“Some of you may know that during my inauguration, Reverend Hamilton delivered the sermon at the prayer service at the National Cathedral,” the president stated. Rev. Hamilton was part of the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House last year.
“So this Easter Week, of course we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God. We’re reminded how He loves us, so deeply, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might live through Him,” Pres. Obama said.
The president affirmed the true meaning of Easter. “And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us — the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection — all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life.”
Pres. Obama said the message of Easter is still relevant today. “More than 2,000 years later, it inspires us still,” Pres. Obama noted. “We are drawn to His timeless teachings, challenged to be worthy of His sacrifice, to emulate as best we can His eternal example to love one another just as He loves us.”
“And of course, we’re always reminded each and every day that we fall short of that example. And none of us are free from sin, but we look to His life and strive, knowing that ‘if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.’” (1 John 4:12)
The President and the Pope
The president acknowledged the privilege of meeting the Pope on May 27th for the first time. “I’ll tell you, I felt this spirit when I had the great honor of meeting His Holiness, Pope Francis, recently. I think it’s fair to say that those of us of the Christian faith, regardless of our denomination, have been touched and moved by Pope Francis.”
“Now, some of it is his words — his message of justice and inclusion, especially for the poor and the outcast. He implores us to see the inherent dignity in each human being. But it’s also his deeds, simple yet profound — hugging the homeless man, and washing the feet of somebody who normally ordinary folks would just pass by on the street.”
The President appeared to be moved by the Pope’s example of humility. “He reminds us that all of us, no matter what our station, have an obligation to live righteously, and that we all have an obligation to live humbly. Because that’s, in fact, the example that we profess to follow.”
Pres. Obama mentioned a book of the Pope’s writings given to him at their meeting, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
A section in the book about the ongoing power of the resurrection stirred the President, “There is a passage that speaks to us today: ‘Christ’s resurrection,’ he writes, ‘is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.’ And he adds, ‘Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!’”
Pres. Obama extended thanks to church leaders at the breakfast. “I want to thank you for your ministries, for your good works, for the marching you do for justice and dignity and inclusion, for the ministries that all of you attend to and have helped organize throughout your communities each and every day to feed the hungry and house the homeless and educate children who so desperately need an education.”
“You have made a difference in so many different ways, not only here in the United States but overseas as well,” he added.