- (Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
The Obamas attended an Easter service at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins prayed for the first family. In his Easter greetings, the president underlined the need to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
"Let me just say, to the first family, to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to the first lady of the United States, and Miss Malia and Sasha, we welcome you," Harkins said during the service, according to the White House pool.
Obama returned to attend the historic Baptist church five years after he attended a service there the Sunday before his 2009 inauguration.
Pastor Harkins urged the congregation at the Easter service to "surround our president" with prayers. He also prayed for Obama, saying, "Bestow upon him a wisdom that indeed comes from you … Even yes, when the light of a flame turns into the harsh glare of criticism, tend to his spirit."
Harkins prayed that God would give Obama "every measure of encouragement" and "wisdom," and "tend to his spirit" under the weight of criticism.
The pastor also prayed for "sister Michelle," and thanked God for His "hedge of protection" around Sasha and Malia, asking that the church's "prayers might envelop them with love and encouragement."
He told the congregation that Easter is a time when people can pause, reflect and say "I can rise."
President Obama released Easter statements this past weekend, saying he and his family were reflecting on the meaning of Easter.
"This weekend, Michelle and I join our fellow Christians in marking Good Friday and celebrating Easter," Obama said in a statement Friday. "We will reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us and rejoice in the triumph of the Resurrection. This season reminds us that God is always with us, in suffering and in celebration. We give thanks for the many blessings in our lives and renew our commitments to follow Christ's example by loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We wish all who celebrate a blessed Easter."
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama also said, "This Sunday, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and I will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season."
The president added that these holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago. "And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today. They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God's children, our responsibilities to one another."
Obama added, "For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly 'the least of these' among us, just as He loves every one of us."
The Obamas have attended Sunday services at other D.C.-area churches, including Washington National Cathedral, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Shiloh Baptist Church, Zion Baptist Church, St. John's Episcopal Church, and Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, according to the White House.
The Obamas were criticized for skipping church on Christmas while they were vacationing in Hawaii.