President Barack Obama on Wednesday morning hosted the third annual Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of White House with about 150 clergy from around the country in the audience. In a six-minute talk, Obama stressed the role of faith in overcoming doubts, noting Jesus was a man as well.
Among those present were the Rev. Al Sharpton, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Archdiocese of Washington and Suzan Johnson Cook, the United States ambassador for International Religious Freedom. Other invited guests included the Rev. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed; Archbishop Demetrios, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; the Rev. Louie Giglio, Passion City Church, Atlanta; the Rev. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Rev. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention. An unidentified pastor wore a hoodie, which has become a symbol of for the heated national discussion about Trayvon Martin, the young black man shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.
In his speech last year, Obama said the resurrection of Jesus puts the travails and busy lives of people in perspective. At the prior Easter prayer breakfast, Obama spoke about the sacrifice of Jesus and the imperfection of man. The president began holding the prayer breakfast in 2010. Around the same time, polls were showing that some Americans did not believe he is a Christian but a Muslim.
Below is a transcript of the speech as provided by the The White House.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. (Applause.) Please, have a seat. Have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. It is a pleasure to be with all of you this morning.
In less than a week, this house will be overrun by thousands of kids at the Easter Egg Roll. (Laughter.) So I wanted to get together with you for a little prayer and reflection -- some calm before the storm. (Laughter.)
It is wonderful to see so many good friends here today. To all the faith leaders from all across the country -- from churches and congregations large and small; from different denominations and different backgrounds -- thank you for coming to our third annual Easter prayer breakfast. And I’m grateful that you’re here.
I’m even more grateful for the work that you do every day of the year -- the compassion and the kindness that so many of you express through your various ministries. I know that some of you have joined with our Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I’ve seen firsthand some of the outstanding work that you are doing in your respective communities, and it’s an incredible expression of your faith. And I know that all of us who have an opportunity to work with you draw inspiration from the work that you do.
Finally, I want to just express appreciation for your prayers. Every time I travel around the country, somebody is going around saying, we’re praying for you. (Laughter.) We got a prayer circle going. Don’t worry, keep the faith. We’re praying. (Laughter.) Michelle gets the same stuff. And that means a lot to us. It especially means a lot to us when we hear from folks who we know probably didn’t vote for me -- (laughter) -- and yet, expressing extraordinary sincerity about their prayers. And it’s a reminder not only of what binds us together as a nation, but also what binds us together as children of God.
Now, I have to be careful, I am not going to stand up here and give a sermon. It’s always a bad idea to give a sermon in front of professionals. (Laughter.) But in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus...and Him crucified.”
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured -- not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.
For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened -- that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!”
So the struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems He was dealing with. And it gives us courage and it gives us hope.
We all have experiences that shake our faith. There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us -- (laughter) -- but that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph. Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” I heard an amen. (Laughter.) Let me repeat. “In this world, you will have trouble.”
THE PRESIDENT: “But take heart!” (Laughter.) “I have overcome the world.” (Applause.) We are here today to celebrate that glorious overcoming, the sacrifice of a risen savior who died so that we might live. And I hope that our time together this morning will strengthen us individually, as believers, and as a nation.
And with that, I’d like to invite my good friend, Dr. Cynthia Hale, to deliver our opening prayer. Dr. Hale. (Applause.)