President Obama yesterday acknowledged that he often "falls short" of Jesus, but said he prays that he would be able to live up to his example of loving those who are marginalised and persecuted.
Speaking at his sixth annual Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House on Tuesday, Obama welcomed the church leaders gathered, who included civil rights veteran Rev CT Vivian and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis. He noted the absence of Dr Gardner C. Taylor, a preacher and leading voice in the civil rights movement, who died on Sunday aged 96.
"Anybody who had the privilege of hearing him speak knows what power he had. He was a civil rights hero. He was a friend of Dr King, who used his spellbinding sermons to spread the Gospel and open people's hearts and minds," Obama said.
"He taught and mentored countless young ministers. So as we mourn his absence today, we also take solace knowing that he leaves a living legacy and that he is in a better place."
Moving into his Easter reflection, the president said he wasn't a preacher, and couldn't tell a group of ministers anything they didn't already know. But he said for him, the celebration of Easter "puts our earthly concerns into perspective."
He continued: "With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. We reflect on the brutal pain that He suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that He bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that He gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God's light.
"And yet, even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus's sacrifice, on Easter we can't lose sight of the fact that the story didn't end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Saviour."
He said that the gift of God's mercy meant that Christians are called on to "be better, to love more deeply, to serve 'the least of these' as an expression of Christ's love here on Earth." He noted that this has been a key tenant of Pope Francis' papacy, and said he looked forward to welcoming him to the US later this year.
"I want to quote him [Pope Francis]," Obama added. "He says that we should strive 'to see the Lord in every excluded person who is thirsty, hungry, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith... imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination.'
"Isn't that how Jesus lived? Isn't that how He loved? Embracing those who were different; serving the marginalized; humbling Himself to the last. This is the example that we are called to follow."
Easter gives Christians the opportunity to reflect on this call, he said. "As a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that's a topic for another day," the President said, to laughter from the room.
"Where there is injustice we defend the oppressed. Where there is disagreement, we treat each other with compassion and respect. Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God.
"So today, we celebrate the magnificent glory of our risen Saviour. I pray that we will live up to His example. I pray that I will live up to His example. I fall short so often. Every day I try to do better. I pray that we will be strengthened by His eternal love. I pray that we will be worthy of His many blessings."