WASHINGTON – For President Barack Obama, the resurrection of Jesus Christ keeps things in perspective. That was his Easter reflection as he addressed Christian leaders Tuesday morning at the White House.
Obama continued the tradition of hosting an Easter Prayer Breakfast – which he wants to make annual – during Holy Week, one of the most sacred times of year for Christians as they mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason – because as busy as we are, as many tasks pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection ... of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective," Obama said in his remarks.
Though it wasn't exactly a worship service, the brief gathering – held a day after Obama reached out to the Jewish community with an intimate Passover Seder – proved to resonate among the more than 100 guests.
The guest list this year included some prominent megachurch pastors such as Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, Dave Gibbons of NewSong Community Church, Mark Batterson of National Community Church, and Joel Hunter of Northland Church.
"You may find it difficult to believe but Experienced some Holy moments at the White House today," Gibbons tweeted.
While acknowledging the busy schedules of the pastors and denominational leaders seated in the East Room, as well as his own full plate and swelling inbox, Obama offered the prayer breakfast as a time to gather and be strengthened as they reflect on what Jesus did more than 2,000 years ago.
"The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross. And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world – past, present and future – and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection," he said.
Citing the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Obama added, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
Obama called it "magnificent grace," "expansive grace," "amazing grace."
It's that grace that calls him to reflect, pray, ask God for forgiveness, and praise God for "the gift of ... His Son and our Savior," he said.
"And that’s why we have this breakfast," he pointed out. "Because in the middle of critical national debates, in the middle of our busy lives, we must always make sure that we are keeping things in perspective."
While children and spouses also help keep things in perspective, the president noted that "nothing beats Scripture and the reminder of the eternal."
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, offered a powerful prayer after being introduced by Obama as the "high-tech bishop" for her iPad.
"I just have to make a quick point: you noticed that these days prayers are on an iPad," Obama said to laughter.
Reading from her Apple tablet computer, McKenzie prayed, "We remember this morning that in the cross you have demonstrated for all time your wonderful love.
"We thank you for Easter's reversal of Good Friday. ... Christ is risen. Therefore, we know even in our confused and battered world you are bringing life out of death and hope out of despair."
Keller and Bishop Jakes also spoke at the event.
The second Easter Prayer Breakfast was held as fewer Americans believe Obama is a Christian. An August 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that only 34 percent of Americans, down from 48 percent in 2009, say Obama is a Christian. Among Protestant pastors, 41 percent say they believe him to be a Christian, according to a separate December 2010 poll by LifeWay Research.
Obama's plans for Easter weekend have not yet been released. Last Easter, Obama and his family attended Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington.