Doomsday Revelations on “21st of May”

Nickel Creek’s Spiritual Comfort in the End Times

This reflection comes from Ryan Stevenson-Cosgrove.

Like a portent from heaven, a few weeks ago, I received a revelation from the Lord! It came in the form of a divinely generated playlist. A celestial suggestion to listen to a Nickel Creek song.

Nickel Creek was a band at the forefront of the Americana revival in the early aughts. And while you may not be familiar with their work, it’s less likely that you’re unfamiliar with their influence.

The album that finally brought them to a wider, or at least more influential, audience was their self-titled second album in 2000.

But as you’ll probably not be surprised to learn, the Lord was too refined to send a message with any breakthrough album. No, my omen came from a track off their mostly-for-fun 2014 reunion album, A Dotted Line.

As understated as the record was, the song that came to mind, “21st of May,” was about as subtle as a shelter-in-place order.

The song opens with this:

It’s time to bid this old world goodbye.
Oh, glory, time to fly away.
We’ll meet our savior in the sky.
Hallelujah, the 21st of May.

This song’s about the very topic many of our minds have turned to during these unprecedented times: the end of days.

And the Holy Spirit delivered this song at exactly the right time, too. Before all these right and proper COVID-19 measures, but at the point it was apparent they were all coming.

Since then, I’ve listened to this song a number of times for the pure comfort and joy it’s brought me, when so much feels so uncomfortable and so joyless.

The next stanza of the song goes,

Sinner, heed these words of mine
‘Bout the coming Judgment Day.
Yes, the end is drawing nigh.
Hallelujah, the 21st of May.

At first I didn’t pay much mind to the words, I just appreciated the picking and fiddling. But I couldn’t resist being drawn in as the lyrics built up with every stanza. And by now, I suspect you’re thinking that those lyrics didn’t sound especially comforting.

Here are the next two. The second is the clue to the whole song:

They laughed while Noah built the boat.
Then cried when came the rain.
They mock me now, but I will float on the 21st of May.

Well, I’ve never been so sure.
And I’ve never led no one astray
‘Cept the fall of ’94.
But, Hallelujah, the 21st of May.

Upon closer listening, this song turns out to be a nod to Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the end of the world way back in 2011. And that line about 1994 is a reference to another one of Harold’s failed end-times predictions.

This song has comforted me because of the humor and playfulness it brings to a topic that usually gets our hearts racing, which isn’t easy, especially when it feels like the world as you know it is shifting under your feet. After all, the only reason the folks in Nickel Creek were able to smirk about the 21st of May is because that day had already come and gone!

But it doesn’t feel like that’s where we are right now. Right now, it feels like we’re in the thick of it.

Of course, one of the great promises that we have is that Jesus loves nothing more than to meet us in the thick of it. But listening to this Nickel Creek song helped me better appreciate exactly what it is Jesus brings into our lives that are so thick with uncertainty and anxiety.

Jesus says he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Which is something we often forget. Not only is Jesus the harbinger of the new creation, but he’s also the end of this old one, too.

At the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he brought an end to this world as we know it, once and for all. Full stop. Period.

But that wasn’t the all. Three days later, when dawn came around, Jesus rose unexpectedly and victoriously over the great last foe, Death!

Nickel Creek could yuk it up about the 21st of May because that date had come and gone. And that’s exactly where Jesus stands on that first and every subsequent resurrection day; on the other side of the end.

In the empty tomb we see the beginning of an entirely new world. One that came in the last way we expect, not by skirting around the end, but by going through it.

What looked liked the end has, in Jesus’ pierced hands, turned out to be only the beginning. A beginning that rises unexpectedly from the other side of the end. And in Jesus you’ve been carried kicking and screaming into it!

And now you stand on the other side of the end, free and clear of it. Now you are free to wink at all those doomsayers. Free to sing along with Nickel Creek, if that’s your thing. Or whatever band it is that get’s you though. No judgment here.

Now, in this time when we are bombarded with a new headline each day, all this talk may sound foolish, but as Jesus says, the really foolish thing is to live as if this old life were really the end.

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