The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brugel (1559)
In the church we mark time according to the calendar of the church year which centers on the events of the incarnation, life and ministry, suffering and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The church moves in and out of the seasons of the church year as she continues her life and witness here on earth. At this time of the year, the church and her members, you and I, are in the midst of a somber, penitential season of Lent.
At Atonement we have been observing the season of Lent with our midweek Lenten sermon series entitled, Words of Life from the Cross. To aid our pious reflection on the words of life that Jesus spoke during his final hours on the cross, we have been looking at various pieces of artwork that correspond to each word. It is fitting, then, that we consider a detailed image from a famous piece of artwork for the newsletter article this month. The painting is, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by the Flemish Renaissance painter, Pieter Brugel (1559). The painting illustrates a common festival of the time that was celebrated in Southern Netherlands. The festival and the painting depict two sides of contemporary life.
The first way of life depicted in the painting is that of “pure enjoyment” (carnival) with little regard for the church and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The second way of life depicted is that of “pure religion” (lent) with little emphasis on the truth that trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ sets believers free.
The actual painting shows more than just the scene above. On the left side of the full painting is an inn and a crowd of merrymakers while on the right side is a church and a crowd of devout religious types. There is a beer drinking scene near the inn and well-behaved children gathering near the church. At the foreground of the painting a battle is about to commence between Prince Carnival and Lady Lent. It was a common event in community life throughout early modern Europe to enact a battle such as this in order to highlight the transition between the lavishness of carnival life and the fasting rituals of the church during Lent.
Sometimes Christianity gets associated with rules: “Fast during Lent! Worship the way we tell you! Do this! Do that! Others respond with the opposite extreme: “Party! Worship how you please! Still others reject worship entirely, saying, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”  The painting criticizes this struggle over worship and the Christian life by turning it into a jousting match. On the one hand, some can go too far by requiring man-made worship laws. On the other hand, some can go too far by using their Christian freedom in the gospel as a license to live and worship however they want. Both of these groups fail to simply remember the Lord and gladly hear his Word.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which immediately follows the Sunday of the Transfiguration of our Lord. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice of the Heavenly Father spoke to Jesus’ disciples saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Above all else, in the season of Lent, we are drawn to listen to the Word of God that proclaims Jesus Christ as our Lord. This leads us to hear of and worship anew our God who loves the world through the death of his beloved Son, our suffering servant.
In our Sunday worship and during our midweek Lenten services, we receive God’s gifts for us. We receive his promise of eternal life. Therefore, we ought to gladly hear and learn the Word of God that deposits these gifts of salvation for us. We do not need to mourn with Lady Lent or party with Prince Carnival.
 To All Eternity: The Essential Teachings of Christianity, written by Edward Engelbrecht, Edward Grube, Raymond AHartwig, Jeffrey Kunze, Erik Rottmann, Rodney Rathmann, and Harold Senkbeil. (St. Louis: CPH, 2002), 21.
 Engelbrecht, To All Eternity, 21.
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Atonement Lutheran Church is a Christ centered congregation that cares for the whole person with the Good News of Jesus Christ.