President Obama and his family celebrated Easter with the people of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. The Washington Post filed two stories, one about the Obamas, and one about the sermon by the Rev. Luis Leon. (Why the Post refers to Leon, who is a priest, as a minister, is a mystery.)
The first story begins:
President Obama and the first family attended Easter Sunday worship at Saint John’s Church Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, their most frequent religious venue while in Washington.
The Obamas worshipped at St. John’s on Easter in 2009, and they have visited the Episcopal congregation, which is led by the Rev. Luis Leon, numerous times, including last year.
The second focuses on the political content of the sermon by Leon, who has offered prayers at the inaugurations of President Obama, and his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Quoting from John 20:1-18, Leon said in the same way Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to hold onto him, it is time for conservatives to stop holding on to what he considers outdated stances on race, gender equality, homosexuals and immigrants.
“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back … for blacks to be back in the back of the bus … for women to be back in the kitchen … for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” Leon said.
Leon said people instead should use “Easter vision” to allow them to see the world in a different, more “wonderful” way.
After the sermon, Leon told the Washington Post that he was speaking about Mary realizing that she shouldn’t hold on, accepting it, and changing from that point on.
The report characterizes Leon’s comments as a “potshot.” This is unfair. Leon is teasing out what in this view are the current day implications of the scriptures appointed for the day. This is what preachers do. Sometimes those implications are political. Leon was right not to shy away from them. The Post was wrong to characterize his sermon in such a superficial way.
ABC News has a fuller account of the sermon.
“When we dwell on the past, when we dwell on the ‘if-onlys’ of life, we forget that God addresses us in the now,” Leon said.
The sermon turned slightly political when Leon said there are some members of the religious right who are trying to pull people back rather than letting them move forward.
“The captains of the religious right are always calling us back, back back. For blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet and for immigrants to be on their side of the border,” Leon said. “What you and I understand is that when Jesus says you can’t hang onto me, he says you know it’s not about the past, it’s not about the before, it’s not about the way things were but about the way things can be in the now.”
“Will you accept the invitation from our gospel today to see things with Easter vision, recognizing reality in a different and new and wonderful way?” he later added. “Today the choice is yours. Jesus Christ is risen today. That’s the proclamation. May god bless you with Easter vision now and forever. Amen.”