Since 1989, Tan Tian An has played the role of Jesus in City Harvest Church’s Easter drama nearly every year. He tells City News what that’s like.
How did you first get cast as Jesus?
I was very involved as a member in the drama ministry of City Harvest Church, or Ekklesia Ministry, back then [in 1989]. The ministry provided dramatic outreaches for evangelistic services. When the need came to fill the role of Jesus, I volunteered to do it. All of us were learning at that time, all young (at heart and in age); but as with our church history, all were willing to do whatever it took to reach the lost. That was, and still is, the CHC vision of loving God and loving others. For me, it was what we all naturally had to do.
You have played the role of Jesus every Easter except two. What did it feel like when you didn’t?
There are other well-qualified actors for the role of Jesus. I had the benefit of being the first one to play that role—setting the pace, and perhaps, the mindset of the audience. Truth be told, I love to sit down and view an actual Easter performance from the audience’s perspective. I had two years to do it, and when I did, I cried too. The drama touched me as much as it touched the congregation. I really felt drawn back in time to the noisy streets of Jerusalem, jostling in the crowd, soaking in the atmosphere, a somber participant in the crucifixion; knowing that my sins put Jesus on the cross and drove the nails into his hands and feet. Finally, the closure of partaking in the forgiveness of Christ’s shed blood and resurrection. It’s the power of the message, not the actor. That’s what I’ve believed all these years.
How do you keep your performance fresh each year?
In each performance, I ask myself, “What’s the difference in this year’s story?” Is it the plot; the acting compatriots beside me; or the audience? Although Christ’s sacrifice is the same in every production, I play it to fit the story—being the Savior, the Solution, the Healer, the Friend. In the Bible, the words of Christ are the same, but what understanding and wisdom we gain from them are new every morning. I don’t believe every year’s performance is the same, and I set my mind accordingly each time.
You know, [for the way of the cross] each walk down the aisle-ways is about four-and-a-half minutes long. Seemingly short, but an eternity-moment in history. It’s a long, cold, hard and tiring road to walk. Jesus willingly walked it for us. He sacrificed once for all time. But no matter how many times I do it with the Roman soldiers, you really sense that each seat along the way is filled with a different person, a different need and most significantly, a different reaction to the cross passing by. No matter how many times the performance is done, you know it’s worth it. After all, Christ’s commandment to us is to keep at it till He returns.
How do you prepare for your role?
I read the Bible, listen to it in recordings and reflect on the teachings through the script. I pray, of course, individually and as a team with the other actors. They are a really great and dedicated group, serious in all they do, and we all have fun putting the show together each year. I do try to fit in physical training, but as usual, work and rehearsal schedules get the better of me. It does get harder each year. I can do better, be more ready spiritually and physically, but God is gracious, using who we are to carry His message.
I am reverent with the words in red from the Gospels. They cannot be used carelessly; so it’s like a Bible study reading deep into the meaning behind the words so that they come to life on stage. Yes, the words are spoken to another actor, but the audience is listening and watching. The words are more powerful than we think. Although I have only a few scenes, the truth still comes to life, changing lives, helping to make decisions that will change destinies.
If and when the time comes for you to hand the reins over to a new Jesus, what qualities should your successor possess?
Willingness, definitely. Passion, of course, and a personal understanding of Jesus. Please come soon. ~ SERINA PERERA