President Obama really proved himself to be a man for all seasons when he delivered a memorable speech at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a Senator of South Carolina state. Senator Pinckney was among the nine people shot and killed by a 29-year-old man who opened fire during a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last year, carrying out his mission of “killing black people.”
The president began by saying,
The Bible calls us to hope. To persevere, and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the Scripture tells us.
Obama said of Pinckney and the other shooting victims, who the president said were “each at different stations in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.”
Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people, people so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race and persevered, people of great faith. To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief.
Obama went on to talk about his history with the deceased and of the importance of church to African-American life, specifically speaking of the historic significance of the Emanuel AME Church.
The church, built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again — a phoenix from these ashes.
Talking about Pinckney’s killer during his message, President Obama said,
He didn’t know he was being used by God. He didn’t know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.
Like one trained in the art of preaching the gospel message, President Obama carried on his speech as he gave a thorough lesson on the topic of Grace and what it really means.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
President Obama’s speech felt like a sermon, with organ chords backing him during some of the most passionate moments. The most memorable of these moments was when he began to sing “Amazing Grace”. At first, the African-American dominated assembly was dazed before they eventually got to their feet as they joined him in the song. See video:
The American President ended his speech by naming each victim of the shooting and pointing out that they “found that grace.” He finally closed by praying that “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”