Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the White House Easter prayer breakfast where President Obama briefly addressed 90 Christian clergy and guests this morning. Obama offered his "deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers" to the families of dead and missing coal miners in West Virginia.
He said he had offered federal assistance to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Obama asked his guests to "pray for the safe return of the missing" and for the souls of the victims, according to the pool report.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also attended the breakfast. Here's more from the pool report:
Obama said his breakfast for Christian clergy was part of a broader effort to welcome all faiths to the White House that had included a celebratory dinner to mark the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan and a sedar as a part of Jews' commemoration of Passover.
The President, speaking from notes, spoke in personal terms about the inspiration he drew from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, recalling the scorn and derision heaped upon Jesus en route to his crucifixion, the "torture" of his death by the Roman Empire and the "agony of his crucifixion." Obama said that he drew particular inspiration "that speaks to me" from Christ's final moments on the cross when Jesus "summoned what remained of his strength" to say, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Obama introduced the Rev. Cynthia Hall to deliver the first prayer as the pool was escorted from the East Room.
The WH press office released a partial list of attendees:
Pastor Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, IL
Pastor Joel Osteen, Pastor, Lakewood Church
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nucio to Washington, D.C.,
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, A.M.E. Church
Elder Nancy Wilson, Metropolitan Community Church
Commissioner Israel Gaither, National Commander, Salvation Army
Hyepin Im, Korean Christian Community Development
Dr. Arturo Chavez, President, Mexican American Catholic College
Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fr. Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches
Dr. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention of America
Sister Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association
Here is a section of Obama's prepared remarks as released by the White House:
I can't tell any of you anything about Easter that you don't already know. (Laughter.) I can't shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter's meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ's sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.
For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind's eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world – that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.
We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.
And such a promise is one of life's great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs – by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.
It's not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered – by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.
Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging – watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.
"Father," He said, "into your hands I commit my spirit." Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God's children.
So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption – through commitment and through perseverance and through faith – be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.