WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama continued the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House Wednesday morning, remembering the "tremendous sacrifice" of Jesus and the hope that his resurrection gives.
"We are here today to celebrate that glorious overcoming, the sacrifice of a risen savior who died so that we might live," he said to a room full of Christian leaders.
The prayer breakfast comes just days before Christians around the world mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Obama has gathered pastors, priests and bishops every year since 2010 during Holy Week and provided brief reflections on his Christian faith.
On Wednesday, he called Easter "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."
Jesus knew doubt and he knew fear, Obama noted, further reflecting on Jesus' humanity. But he confronted his fear and conquered his own anguish, thus giving courage and hope to his followers.
"We all have experiences that shake our faith," the president stated. "There are times where we have questions for God's plan relative to us but that's precisely when we should remember Christ's own doubts and eventually his own triumph."
Obama drew applause when he cited the New Testament book of John: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance at the prayer breakfast and offered his own thoughts on what is considered the most holy day on the Christian calendar.
"I think Easter's about forgiveness, in my view," he told clergy. "I'm not a theologian, but when Jesus said 'forgive them for they know not what they do,' I think that was a generic statement as well as a statement specifically [for] what was happening on that day for Jesus.
"I think without forgiveness, there's very little hope."
Biden also called for more understanding, tolerance and sacrifice. "To me that's what the risen Christ exemplifies and that's the obligation as a consequence of his rising that falls to all of us, it seems."
Among the guests at the prayer breakfast were Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl – whom Biden repeatedly recognized; Passion City Church Pastor Louie Giglio – who gave the closing prayer; Pastor Joel C. Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed – who delivered the closing reflection; National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson; the Rev. Al Sharpton; and Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
One guest wore a hoodie in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot to death earlier this year.