The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black has a deepened appreciation for Holy Week after spending a few hours at an ecumenical gathering at the White House. The UCC general minister and president joined about 150 faith leaders in the East Room on Monday, April 14, welcomed by President Barack Obama at his annual White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.
It marks the second time Black began Holy Week with President Obama's prayer breakfast. The first was in 2011, and Black felt that both events were moving ways to mark the final week of Lent.
"The president was in rare form. He has a great sense of humor, and can be quite serious almost at the same time," Black said. "I found the event as inspiring this time as the last time I attended."
The Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., a retired National Baptist pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, delivered a sermon after Obama spoke.
"Otis Moss is an incredible preacher," Black said. "He spoke about a 'Faith Stronger than Death.' One of his points was that the resurrection is not a historical fact – it's a present-day reality. The way he worked this idea was masterful. It left me with the sense that Easter has empowering meaning still."
This is the fifth year the president has hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast, which celebrates the life and death of Christ. Obama made brief remarks to the gathered faith leaders about Holy Week, and thanked them for their ministry and work toward justice, dignity and inclusion.
Obama also called on Americans to stand against religious violence – a response to a shooting in Overland Park, Kan., last weekend at a Jewish center and retirement home that claimed three victims –saying that people shouldn't have to worry about their safety when they gather with others in faith.
"As Americans, we not only need to open our hearts to the families of the victims, we've got to stand united against this kind of terrible violence, which has no place in our society," the president said. "And we have to keep coming together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism that can lead to hatred and to violence, because we're all children of God."
Following the breakfast, the president took group photographs with each table.
In closing, Black said the gathering "deepened the Holy Week experience for me, and for others I am sure, by connecting the Gospel and the real actions and commitments of the leaders present to the eternal quest for justice and peace."