MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Now it's time for Faith Matters. At this time just about every week, we dig into matters of faith and spirituality. And so today, we are going to spend some time talking about the important religious holidays being observed by many this weekend.
Passover starts tonight, and we'll talk about why wine aficionados need no longer turn up their noses at kosher wines. That's later.
But first, we are going to talk about Easter, observed this weekend in the Western calendar, next weekend in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The 40 days of Lent, Holy Week and today, Good Friday, is a time of sacrifice and reflection. President Obama talked about sacrifice earlier this week at his Easter Prayer Breakfast.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face.
MARTIN: We were thinking, though, that accepting that perspective might be hard, especially when those temporal challenges - as the president put it - can be so very difficult - losing jobs, losing homes, just trying to stay afloat.
Pastor Rudy Rasmus confronts these issues every day in his church, St. John's Downtown in Houston, Texas .So we thought this was a good time to catch up with him to talk about how he is encouraging his parishioners to maintain hope.
Pastor Rudy, thanks so much for joining us once again. Happy Easter to you.
PASTOR RUDY RASMUS: Hello, Michel. Good to be here.
MARTIN: Now, your church has more than 8,000 members, from all walks of life. And we've checked in with you previously about how people were weathering the recession. And so we wanted to ask you how you are encouraging people - particularly during the Lenten period, which is a period that emphasizes sacrifice - when many people probably already feel they're sacrificing, just maintaining.
RASMUS: This unique congregation that I'm a part of - with 8,000 people from every neighborhood in Houston, so 150 zip codes, every socioeconomic group, every demographic. And you bring a diverse group of people like that together, you see sacrifice from many different perspectives, as dire as the homeless men and women that we serve every day, to people who are, in their own right, very wealthy.
So we talk about the fact that it's not always about an equal gift, but an equal sacrifice. So to a person who is homeless and attempting to put together bus fare, you know, in essence, to give up maybe that one item that means the world could be a huge sacrifice for that person.
I think the most extreme were some folk who gave up sex for this time. There are many folk who have sacrificed a meal. But what really happens - when you make a sacrifice that's meaningful, it gives you a chance to reflect on what's really important. And, in essence, we call it keeping the main thing the main thing.
MARTIN: We're speaking with Pastor Rudy Rasmus. He's senior pastor at St. John's Downtown in Houston, Texas. That's a church he co-pastors with his wife, Juanita. We're talking about how he's observing the Easter season.
So now we've traveled through Lent. Today is Good Friday, and such a crucial time in the Christian calendar, on to Easter Sunday. Have you thought about what your message will be?
RASMUS: Yeah. I've been reflecting on that. And in Judaism, you know, resurrections really meant a physical resurrection, in essence, the person coming back to life. And, in our context, there are a lot of things that have died. For instance, our economy has been very challenged and people's financial lives have passed. You know, there are relationships that, in many cases, as a result of the financial challenges, have come undone, just undue stress and the love has died.
You know, what I'm going to encourage on Sunday is to believe in the fact that this hope means that whatever has died in our life of meaning and of value can be restored, and it can come back better than ever.
MARTIN: What are you saying to people who just - I don't know if you have people in your congregation who you're kind of particularly worried about, who you feel might really be on the edge of despair.
RASMUS: You know, connecting the fact that this physical resurrection is more than just sort of a spiritual resurgence, but to imagine that a person's life was dead and now has come back fully, hope is really the essence of this moment. And for the hopeless to imagine - if you can wrap your mind around a person coming back to life, then anything else that might be of challenge in your life has the possibility of coming back again.
So when we think about folk who have lost homes, lost jobs and haven't been able to find work, hope is a huge message. And I'm telling you, I am encouraging people to believe. You know, the power of belief and then the power of shared belief - when you get a few folk around you who also are believing that good can come out of a tragic situation, it is amazing how that kind of spreads into the spirit of the person who might be undergoing just some insurmountable challenges. So, really, hope and the possibility of restoration is really what it's about for me.
MARTIN: Is there anything in particular this Easter Sunday that's giving you hope and that's inspiring you as you prepare to address your congregants this weekend?
RASMUS: You know, I'm just recently back from a trip to India and there, I encountered despair at an unprecedented scale. And, while there, I had a chance to reflect on three things.
One, you know, my hope at being a better husband, even a better devotee of Christ and becoming even a better friend. You know, as I kind of think back on how quickly life goes and how precious life is, I'm really using this time, hoping for a more effective life in the days ahead.
MARTIN: Rudy Rasmus is senior pastor at St. John's Downtown. That's a church in Houston, Texas that he co-pastors with his wife Juanita. And he was kind enough to join us from member station KUHF in Houston, Texas.
Pastor Rudy, thank you so much for speaking with us, and Happy Easter to you and to yours.
RASMUS: Happy Easter to you, too, Michel, and thank you again.
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