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Sunday 2 April 2023 Palm Sunday

07 February 2023

Fickle hearts, faithful God

Matthew 21:1-11


By Lisa Barnett

Team Rector of Horsham Parish, Chichester Diocese

Context: a Eucharist in a small rural church with a mix of ages

Aim: to consider the fickleness of our response to Jesus, and the faithfulness of God

Palm Sunday is the day when we remember Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the Old Testament prophecy fulfilled, ‘See your king is coming, riding on a donkey.’ Not a proud tall horse, the usual option for royalty, but a humble donkey for Jesus, but nonetheless, the expectation in that moment of triumphant entry was clear.

For Jesus’s followers, this was the day that they had been waiting for, the day that all of their learning and discipleship had been leading up to, the day when the rightful king of Jerusalem would be enthroned, and all around would know the truth of Jesus’ identity. It’s also a day which shines a discerning light on some of the dark realities of human nature.


I often visit local schools in the week before Easter to explore the Easter story with them, and the children ask the best questions. One year, a thoughtful 10-year-old asked me: ‘Why did the crowd shout for Jesus to be crucified, when on Palm Sunday they thought he was the king?’ Such a great question.

The crowds that shouted ‘hosanna’ may well have been the same ones who would soon be shouting ‘crucify’ and we can’t enjoy Palm Sunday without knowing what the days ahead will bring. We can’t watch the cheering crowds without knowing that soon it will all change; the adulation will become malice, and the cheering welcome will be replaced by angry violence.


The crowd didn’t really know who Jesus was. They were just caught up in the excitement — happy to shout hosanna if it looked hopeful that this one was the one — but just as happy to shout ‘crucify’ when the mood changed.

A few years ago, there was a harrowing story on the news of a young asylum seeker who was brutally attacked in Croydon. The news reports suggested that up to 30 people were involved in the attack, egged on by one another: they all joined in the violence.

Crowds can be dangerous. Interestingly, the term ‘mob,’ comes from the Latin mobile vulgus, which means ‘fickle crowd.’ Crowds can be dangerous, and crowds can be fickle.


From Judas’a pre-meditated betrayal to Peter’s moment of fear — ‘I don’t know the man you’re speaking of’ — the disciples too, are fickle in their response to Jesus.

The disciples were quick to express words of confident faith: Lord, I believe! I will follow you wherever you go. Though others fall away, I never will.

Confident faith — yet the words weren’t able to carry the truth that they intended. For they would fall away, all of them. When it was all going wrong, their confident faith would let them down.

The crowds were fickle, the disciples were fickle.


I’m also fickle in my response to Jesus. ‘I will offer up my life,’ I’m happy to sing, but some days I don’t manage to offer up a couple of minutes of prayer, and certainly not anything as comprehensive as my life.

In Holy Week we’re invited to acknowledge the fragility and fickleness of our faith too. Like the crowd, like the disciples, we are fickle too.


Holy Week points us again and again to a God who is faithful, who will continue to reach out to us in love, though our response to Him may be half-hearted and fickle

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he was surrounded by some of the worst characteristics of humanity; the greed of Judas, the arrogance of Peter, the cowardice of Pilate, and the jealousy of the High Priest. Yet he continued in complete obedience to his heavenly father, to fulfil his mission. ‘It is finished,’ he said.

The journey through Holy Week and towards Easter is a vital one to make every year. Every year we remember the same events, but every year God speaks to us differently through them. Every year there are new resonances and parallels in our own lives, new aspects that we hadn’t noticed before. As I look, each year, at the darkness of the human failure that surrounded Jesus, it encourages me about the depth of God’s grace, and the reality of his forgiveness, for them, and for me.

And as I journey with Jesus through Holy Week each year, there’s always more to be known, more to be understood, of the price that was paid, the victory that was accomplished, the faithful love that conquered on the cross.

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