Among the earliest self-designations for Christians was people of “The Way.” As indicated by Jesus’ self-reference, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), people of The Way are Jesus’ followers. They are people committed to going with him, going his way.
If I were to ask you, “What is the way to your home?” you’d describe the route. You might use road names or landmarks or directional guides (west, right) or a combination thereof, but you’d tell me the way to get there. We’d both understand that there is process to experience before I arrived, miles to go before I sleep.
People of The Way are trying to get somewhere: to the Father’s presence. Jesus talked about that as both a present and future reality. In other words, people of The Way recognize that the goal is not to be teleported at some undisclosed time to some other existence, but to live in light of that other existence, beginning now, even as we experience the process of getting from here to there.
The original people of The Way recognized Jesus to be the presence of God and his teachings and practices and spirit to be the path by which they would experience God’s presence more readily. They knew the full experience of God wouldn’t be fully experienced then, but that a journey, a path of following Jesus would lead them, again and again into those significant, if fleeting, experiences, and, ultimately, to their destination of the full and complete and eternal presence of God. They began living another existence as they were growing into the fullness of that other existence.
Saul of Tarsus wasn’t impressed. He thought those who belonged to The Way were dangerously wrong, leading people away from the correct way, truth, and life. He waged terror on them until God waged light on him (Acts 9:1-20). In a flash that was merciful to Saul and to those he terrorized, Saul was changed into one who believed in and belonged to The Way. Even so, if his heart was instantly changed, his reputation wasn’t. A process of growth as one who belonged to (and among) The Way lay before him.
As people who belong to The Way, we simultaneously celebrate the joy and freedom that comes with it, as well as the journey it puts us on. We haven’t fully arrived, but, by God’s grace and with our guiding Light, we’re moving in the right direction.