This is the entrance to St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan, completed in 1766. It is just across the street from the World Trade Center, which in those days was part of the church grounds. George Washington and several of his peers stopped to pray here after his inauguration on April 30, 1789. So “Ground Zero” is, in essence, the consecration grounds of modern America.
Earlier that day, on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, Washington read his inaugural address wherein he referenced God numerous times, acknowledging His guidance and blessing on the country at its founding. Among other statements Washington warned that “we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…”
Just over 212 years later on September 11, 2001, two planes were intentionally flown into Towers 1 & 2 of the World Trade Center. When Tower 2 finally collapsed it sent debris flying in every direction, including toward St. Paul’s. A steel beam was throw toward the church, but it struck a sycamore tree standing in the church cemetery, located between the WTC and the chapel. The tree collapsed and died, but prevented damage to the church. All around, buildings were wrecked and thousands of windows blown out, but not a single window was broken in St. Paul’s (one was cracked). No head stones in the cemetery were damaged, not even by the falling tree. For more details, read this.
The dead sycamore tree was uprooted, and the stump and some of the roots were used by sculptor Steve Tobin as the basis for a bronze sculpture, now located at the front of Trinity Church a few blocks south on Broadway. It is called the “Trinity Root”, meant to symbolize unity and strength (see photo). In the place of the fallen sycamore, in 2003, a Norway Spruce was planted and was dubbed the “Tree of Hope”. I was in New York City earlier this month and saw the Trinity Root and the Tree of Hope. A photo I took of the Spruce tree can been seen below.
Amazingly there is a passage in the Bible that mentions both the sycamore and “cedar” (more accurately in Hebrew “coniferous tree”, ארז ‘erez, H730) in a single verse–Isaiah 9:10: “The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with smooth stones; The sycamores have been cut down, But we will replace them with cedars.” Even more amazing is the fact that this very verse was quoted by representatives of the American government from the U.S. Capitol on several occasions shortly after 9/11–both Tom Daschle and John Edwards used this verse to describe America’s attitude following the attacks–we would rebuild and come out even stronger than we were before.
Unfortunately they grabbed the verse out of context, because the rest of the passage conveys Israel’s stubbornness in not heeding God’s rebuke of their faithlessness; He employed the surrounding nation’s attacks to try to wake up His people, per the Prophet Isaiah. If Mr. Edwards and Mr. Daschle had just begun their quotes one verse earlier the message would have been quite different: Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, asserting in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with smooth stones…”
The passage concludes with a sobering warning, if God’s message goes unheeded: Yet the people do not turn back to Him who struck them, nor do they seek the LORD of hosts. So the LORD cuts off head and tail from Israel, both palm branch and bulrush in a single day. (Isa 9:13)
May we take heed and may our hearts be softened to repent and turn back to God. It is instructive to learn from the examples of Mr. Daschle, former Senate Minority Leader and Mr. Edwards, who served as John Kerry’s VP on the 2004 Democratic Presidential ticket–Mr. Daschle was defeated in his last race for office and Mr. Edwards fell in disgrace due to marital unfaithfulness and also is out of office.
The notion of an uprooted tree as a symbol of strength should also cause us pause: The uprooted tree in the Bible represented God’s judgment: For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger. (1 Ki 14:15) But the wicked will be cut off from the land and the treacherous will be uprooted from it. (Prov 2:22)
The following videos go into more detail on the sycamore and cedar of ‘Ground Zero’ and offer amazing glimpses into God’s sovereignty in human affairs.