Friday, April 05, 2013

President Obama Welcomes Christian Leaders For 2013 White House Easter Prayer Breakfast

A chance for the President to 'personally honor' Jesus Christ, says White House...
President Obama on Friday morning marked the end of what the White House called 'Easter season' with his fourth annual Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House.  "This was an opportunity for the President to personally honor Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ," the White House said.  (Above, the President greets Christian leaders in the Blue Room before the breakfast)

Vice President Joe Biden also attended the 9:00 AM East Room event, where about 150 pastors and other Christian leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Luis Cortés of Esperanza were seated at tables along with top White House officials, including Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

In his remarks, President Obama thanked his guests for the "good works" in their communities and said he hoped they are getting some rest after a busy holy week.

"I'm pleased to say we survived yet another Easter Egg Roll," the President joked, and then described his recent trip to the Middle East, noting his visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. 

"We recommend ourselves to following His example," President Obama said, including "loving our neighbors as ourselves."

The President said he prayed and thought about the pilgrims past and present who have made the same visit and sought to follow the example of Jesus.

"While our time on Earth is fleeting, His life is eternal," President Obama said. "This morning, let us pray we are worthy of His many blessings...That this nation is worthy of His many blessings."

Biden also spoke about a recent trip, noting that he was in Rome for the Investiture of Pope Francis.

"For me, the essence of my faith is tolerance," said Biden.  "We are all our brother's keeper," and he added that the "animating principle" of the Obama Administration is "look out for the least among us."

As background for the breakfast, the White House said:  "Christian leaders from across the country joined the President at this breakfast for a time of fellowship, prayer, reflection,  and celebration."

The White House said guests included:  Bishop T.D. Jakes, Senior Pastor, The Potter's House; Dr. Joel Hunter, Northland, A Church Distributed in Florida; His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Derrick Harkins, 19th Street Baptist Church; Dr. Leith Anderson, National Association of Evangelicals; Rev. Kathryn Lohre, National Council of Churches.

The transcript:

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                               
April 5, 2013


East Room

9:28 A.M. EDT

     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you all for being here today.  And welcome to the White House, and a belated happy Easter -- this time of the year when we celebrate renewal and we reflect on the faith that brings us together.

For me, the essence of my faith is tolerance:  not being judgmental about people of different faiths.  When I was in Rome a few weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke movingly in his homily about our commitments to each other, not just as people of faith, but, he went on to say, but as human beings.

I grew up in a tradition of Catholic social doctrine, and I was incredibly impressed by His Holiness’s homily, his sense of social justice.  But I believe his message reads something essential about all faiths, and that is ultimately we all believe that we have a responsibility to one another and we all are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.

When it comes down to it, we all know that we’re connected by much more than divides us, although the focus is always on what divides us.  As we move forward as a nation, I do believe we’re going to be judged on how we answer that call -- that call of moral responsibility, to whether we stand up for those who have the least among us, whether we act on their behalf.

And one of the things that I think at least the President and I believe has been the essence of this administration is the most animating principle of the administration has been just that:  to look out for the least among us.  Those are the values that I know that the President -- and I personally know -- the President holds extremely close to his heart.

So I’d like to introduce to you now, my friend, and our President, President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you.

Well, good morning, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome, once again, to the White House.  It is always wonderful to see so many friends from all across the country.  I want to thank you for joining us today.  I want to thank everybody for their prayers, but, most importantly, I want to thank everybody for their good works through your ministries.  It's making a difference in communities all across this nation, and we could not be more proud to often have a chance to work with you.

To all the pastors in the house, I hope you’ve enjoyed some well-deserved rest after a very busy Holy Week.  I see some chuckles, so maybe not.  (Laughter.)  Here at the White House, I’m pleased to say that we survived yet another Easter Egg Roll.  (Laughter.)
Now, if you’ve been to this breakfast before, you know that I always try to avoid preaching in front of people who do it for a living.  That's sound advice.  So this morning, I'm just going to leave the sermon to others and offer maybe a few remarks as we mark this -- the end of this Easter season.

In these sacred days, those of us as Christians remember the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for each of us –- how, in all His humility and His grace, He took on the sins of the world and extended the gift of salvation.  And we recommit ourselves to following His example –- to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls and with all our minds, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves.

That’s the eternal spirit of Easter.  And this year, I had -- I think was particularly special for me because right before Easter I had a chance to feel that spirit during my trip to the Holy Land.  And I think so many of you here know there are few experiences more powerful or more humbling than visiting that sacred earth.

It brings Scripture to life.  It brings us closer to Christ.  It reminds us that our Savior, who suffered and died was resurrected, both fully God and also a man; a human being who lived, and walked, and felt joy and sorrow just like us. 

And so for Christians to walk where He walked and see what He saw are blessed moments.  And while I had been to Jerusalem before, where Jesus healed the sick, and cured the blind, and embraced the least of these, I also had a chance to go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  And those of you who have been there know that entering the church is a remarkable experience, although it is a useful instruction to see how managing different sections of the church and different clergy -- it feels familiar.  (Laughter.)  Let’s just put it that way.  (Laughter.)

And as I approached the Altar of the Nativity, as I neared the 14-pointed Silver Star that marks the spot where Christ was born, the Patriarch of Jerusalem welcomed me to, in his words, “the place where heaven and Earth met.”
And there, I had a chance to pray and reflect on Christ’s birth, and His life, His sacrifice, His Resurrection.  I thought about all the faithful pilgrims who for two thousand years have done the same thing -- giving thanks for the fact that, as the book of Romans tells us, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

I thought of the poor and the sick who seek comfort, and the marginalized and the forsaken who seek solace, and the grateful who merely seek to offer thanks for the simple blessings of this life and the awesome glory of the next.  I thought of all who would travel to this place for centuries to come and the lives they might know.

And I was reminded that while our time on Earth is fleeting, He is eternal.  His life, His lessons live on in our hearts and, most importantly, in our actions.  When we tend to the sick, when we console those in pain, when we sacrifice for those in need, wherever and whenever we are there to give comfort and to guide and to love, then Christ is with us.

So this morning, let us pray that we’re worthy of His many blessings, that this nation is worthy of His many blessings.  Let us promise to keep in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds, on this day and on every day, the life and lessons of Christ, our Lord.

And with that, I’d like to ask Father Larry Snyder to deliver our opening prayer. 

                             END                 9:36 A.M. EDT


*White House photo by David Lienemann